“The dazzling vision and relentless passion of the founders.” One might have thought that the title of Jim Malarkey’s Founder’s Day presentation was slightly hyperbolic. If you attended it, however, that preconception most likely vanished somewhere between Horace’s claim that ”nothing today prevents the world from being a paradise,” and Arthur Morgan’s quest for an “informal utopian community of learning.”
I remember when I was 14 years old and, when asked “what do you want to do when you grow up?” relentlessly answering “change the world.” I also remember losing momentum for the project as I advanced into the disillusioning turpitudes of adolescence. Like many teenagers in quest of identity and purpose, I wondered how to reconcile that yearn for transformative action and the weight of reality that gradually imposed itself on me.
Many educational institutions, observed Malarkey, have the purpose of “meeting market demands” and helping students adapt to society. What about students who do not recognize themselves in the profile of “fit in, slide through, and get away?” he asked. Then there is Antioch. Antioch as a hyphen between what the world is and what the world ought to be.
Antioch, in the time of Horace Mann was indeed a bootcamp, recounted Malarkey, if not for the revolution, for winning victories for humanity; a “cross between Harvard and West Point” where students exercised for two hours every day, academics were rigorous and morals stringent. “A war of extermination [against ignorance, oppression of body and soul, intemperance and bigotry] is to be waged and you are the warriors” was Horace’s message to Antioch graduates.
“This is not just a bachelor’s degree’” exclaimed Malarkey, “This is a War Cry.”
Arthur Morgan in the 1920s perpetuated and added to Mann’s vision. To prepare for the frontlines, you have to find your purpose; Co-op was thus instituted. Gen-Ed courses were brought to the curriculum, based on the idea that learning to know how the world works is not just a preference but a responsibility. Finally the idea that the whole human being thrives only in a healthy community inspired the principles of community governance.
The three legged stool was created.
“Education in America must mean nothing else than this,” declared Malarkey, drawing comparison between the task ahead and the boulder in Glen Helen under which the Morgans are resting together. To be a radical means to get to the roots, deep down to lift the boulder. “And Antioch is the place for that to be done.”
Antioch’s spirit “keeps losing itself and then finding itself,” observed Malarkey yet the “feisty if elusive Antioch spirit of inquiry and action” that characterizes it seems to resiliently survive through generations of Antiochians, regardless of incessant administrative turnovers, gaps in vision and top-down renewal plans.
And no matter how it redefines itself perpetually, Antioch continues attracting students who, like me, once dreamed of changing the world and wondered how to do it. Not only does it draw us in, but most importantly it revives the embers under the ashes, the will to take on that boulder, and the certitude that the potential to lift it is within us—assuming, of course, we get to graduate from Antioch College.