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Date published: May 10, 2019
Professor of Humanities and Philosophy Jeffrey Lehman, MA ’99 PhD ’02, will be joining Braniff’s Classical Education faculty in the fall. For the past six years, he has taught at Hillsdale College. Below, Dr. Lehman shares with us some of what he has been doing in the years since he left UD and what he hopes to do upon his return.
I’ve taught at Hillsdale College for six rich and rewarding years. During that time, I created and developed several courses for the Classical Education Department to enhance its offerings: Classical Logic & Rhetoric, Classical Quadrivium, Master Teachers in the Western Tradition, Plato & Socratic Dialogue, Aristotle on First Principles, Augustine the Teacher, Aquinas on the Virtues, and others. After I’d taught it in my department for a few years, the first of these courses, Classical Logic & Rhetoric, was made a part of the core curriculum at Hillsdale College (i.e., with a few modifications to make it accessible to underclassmen). It has been a delight to see the department grow, attracting excellent students of many different majors who are eager to explore the Western tradition of liberal education in greater depth. It has also been an honor to be a part of strengthening the core curriculum at Hillsdale College by refining and teaching the logic and rhetoric course with first-rate colleagues from diverse disciplines.
Just prior to teaching at Hillsdale College, I spent seven years teaching at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, California. There I taught across the curriculum, including courses in which we read great works in mathematics, natural science, history, politics, literature, philosophy and theology. Since all coursework at TAC is taught through Socratic conversation, my years there enabled me to hone my skills at leading Socratic discussions surrounded by students and faculty who were committed to seeking the truth in a spirit of philosophical friendship.
Before teaching at Thomas Aquinas College (and before being received into the church), I was a faculty member of the Torrey Honors Institute — a Great Books honors program of Biola University in La Mirada, California — during its early years. Much like the curriculum at TAC, the curriculum of the Torrey Honors Institute was interdisciplinary in nature and grounded in the Great Books of the Western tradition.
Among the many occasions for gratitude that I could mention, the two principal ones that have made teaching at Hillsdale College such a joy are the faculty and students.
There is a real sense of collegiality among the faculty at Hillsdale, and this collegiality has been a constant source of inspiration, encouragement and challenge to me. Faculty regularly get together to read and discuss matters that take them beyond their own disciplines in pursuit of a truly integrated liberal education for themselves and for their students. For example, one fall semester I led a faculty seminar on the logic text and reader I’d developed for the Classical Logic and Rhetoric course. Among those who participated were faculty from the English, history, politics, biology, chemistry and mathematics departments. The commitment to interdisciplinary dialogue among faculty has been delightful.
Then there are the students. Hillsdale College is blessed to have many bright young souls who are committed to pursuing a liberal education grounded in the liberal arts, and who are always seeking to situate their studies in individual disciplines within the larger whole of a liberal education aimed at discovery of the truth. The high level and generous spirit of dialogue among students on campus is contagious and profoundly gratifying.
Having said all these true and good things about Hillsdale College faculty and students, I am thrilled to be returning to the University of Dallas. I first gained a knowledge of and a love for liberal education at UD, and in many ways my entire professional career has been an outworking of good, true and beautiful things that I first glimpsed while there as a graduate student. My deep love of the classical liberal arts and ongoing quest to discern their current relevance to classical education was first kindled at UD, and the entire Arts of Liberty Project is in large part an ongoing, natural development of what began there. What is more, many of those amazing Hillsdale College colleagues I mentioned above are former classmates from or fellow graduates of the University of Dallas. There is quite a UD contingent here, and that presence has been a constant reminder of my desire to return to UD to teach, if a suitable occasion presented itself. This move is a homecoming. It affords me the opportunity to take the many things I’ve learned and experienced over the years and put them to good use at the academic institution that I love most.
First, I should mention Master Teachers in the Western Tradition. Designed as a microcosm of an integrated, “Great Books” curriculum, the course begins with a few dialogues of Plato (Meno, Phaedrus and Phaedo) and excerpts from Aristotle’s works (Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics and Politics) and proceeds to consider works in literature, history, politics, philosophy and theology throughout the Western tradition. The reading list is very selective, of course, and focuses on texts that speak to perennial questions across the disciplines. The delight that students took in this course inspired other courses, one of which is Plato and Socratic Dialogue. As its name suggests, this course considers many of Plato’s Socratic dialogues and then examines remarkable instances of philosophical dialogue from later in the Western tradition (e.g., Augustine’s Cassiciacum dialogues, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, Thomas More’s Utopia, etc.). One other favorite is Classical Quadrivium. While much has been said of and done with the trivium — grammar, logic (dialectic) and rhetoric — in classical education, relatively little has been attempted regarding the quadrivium—arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Inspired by Plato’s comments on mathematical studies (primarily in his Republic and Timaeus), this course considers each of these quadrivial arts through study of key texts, such as Euclid’s Elements, Ptolemy’s Almagest, Kepler’s Astronomia Nova and Boethius’s On Music. The purpose of the course is to see the place that the mathematical arts/sciences once had in a liberal education and to consider how a similar approach might be brought to bear in the study of mathematics and natural science in classical schools today.
One ongoing research interest is the classical liberal arts. Among the arts of the trivium, I’ve done the most with logic. While at Hillsdale College I co-authored an introductory text and developed an accompanying reader in primary sources (mostly from Aristotle’s Organon with a few excerpts from Plato, Porphyry and St. Thomas Aquinas as well). With this work in its final stages, I am turning my attention to developing a similar text and reader for the classical quadrivium. I will begin work on this project while teaching the new quadrivium course at UD.
Two other long-standing research interests are the works of Plato and Augustine. Last fall I published Augustine: Rejoicing in the Truth with Classical Academic Press. This little book explores St. Augustine’s philosophy and theology of education. I am putting finishing touches on another book, Plato and Socratic Conversation (also to be published by Classical Academic Press). This book offers an introduction to the theory and practice of Socratic conversation, one that addresses the philosophical foundations, the historical development, and the current practice of Socratic conversation in classical schools today.
My wife, Jennifer, and I have been happily married for 26 years. We have four children: Emily, who is currently finishing a master’s degree in theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado; Samantha, who will be a sophomore next year studying theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas; Jonathan, who graduates high school in just a few days and plans to work with a general contractor here in Hillsdale; and Andrew, who will be in fifth grade next year and is excited to be moving to Texas to meet an armadillo in its native environs!
I love walking and hiking. One of my favorite things to do is take a long walk with my dog Hero, a Great Pyrenees (for those not familiar with the breed, think large white wolf with a gentle, playful disposition). Jennifer and I also love hiking, especially in national parks, but also just about anywhere we can get out and enjoy nature. Among our favorites parks are Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Death Valley, Zion and Yosemite.
One hobby that Jennifer and I have shared has been growing and caring for plants. In our various gardens we have grown bananas, lemons, kumquats, cherries, apples, blackberries and many other fruiting plants. We also enjoy growing flowers and flowering trees—fuchsias, tulips, hibiscus, passion vines, trumpet flowers, etc. The general weather conditions in southern Michigan have made this hobby a little difficult. Jennifer and I are looking forward to getting back to Texas, where many of our favorite plants will grow.
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