Like many universities Ashland reserves time at the beginning of the school year for an orientation period where new students can acclimate to campus life. Unlike other universities, however, the Ashbrook Scholar Program uses this time to instill its incoming students with an impression of what their education will entail.
During the summer, incoming Ashbrook Scholars read Winston Churchill’s My Early Life, an autobiography where Churchill reflects on his many misadventures as a youth and especially on his own education. Churchill was not the brightest student. Being a poor student of Latin and failing to attend a top school in England, he nonetheless managed to educate himself while stationed at Bangalore, India, steeping himself in the classics. Reading for over five hours each day, Churchill absorbed the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Gibbon, and Macaulay. Concluding his education in Bangalore, Churchill declared, “A man’s Life must be nailed to a cross either of Thought or Action.”
This central quote of the book begins the education of every Ashbrook Scholar. Orientation begins with a three-hour discussion of My Early Life and in particular what it means to be educated and receive an education. The classroom feels more like a conversation between friends than a traditional college lecture hall, where the instructor presides over the students. Ashbrook professors, rather than being the sole arbiter of truth, are active participants in pursuing the truth along with the students. The late Professor Peter Schramm viewed the purpose of this introductory “lecture,” as “getting students to think through the point of a liberal education.” One of this year’s freshmen, Kensey McCuller, saw that as well, stating that she “came to Ashbrook to get an education and I knew instantly that I came to the right place.”
Ashbrook believes education is not simply a set of skills or a breadth of knowledge one learns; but rather, education is concerned with the whole person. It is for this reason that along with their educational orientation, new Ashbrook Scholars have to attend an etiquette dinner where they are introduced to table manners becoming of young ladies and gentlemen. Learning the important skills of how to interact at a formal dinner setting benefits the students in both their personal and their professional lives.
To round out the orientation, the new Scholars watch an old John Wayne western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. While this may seem like a relaxing evening, the students’ education continues even here. Students are asked to participate in a critical analysis of what the movie has to say about politics and philosophy. Professors Chris Burkett and Jason Stevens frequently stop the movie and ask questions about certain scenes to evaluate what meaning may lie in the movie. Much like the etiquette dinner, the analysis of this movie helps students learn to interact and be fluent in the culture around them, skills which will again follow them for the rest of their lives. Junior Madeleine Emholtz notes how critically analyzing the movie showed her that “my education was not simply what major I chose but rather a frame of mind I would be able to apply to everything I do.”
While the freshman orientation is only one small part of every Scholar’s education, the lessons learned and the questions raised permeate all four years of study. Emholtz made it known that “the principles I learned from orientation shaped how I treat all my classes to this day.” Along with this, a senior, Nicholas Bartulovic, explained that he is “still wondering which cross he should be nailed to,” and that the more he thinks about it that “maybe it’s both, and that the orientation was meant to give us a foundation on which to come to this conclusion; but that it is a question that will never leave my mind and an experience I will never forget.”