Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Deep Springs in the Desert


Last year I read this article in Vanity Fair magazine about Deep Springs College. (This was before Vanity Fair made the editorial decision to only put scantily clad starlets on its once venerable covers). I mean, I like reading Christopher Hitchens and Evgenia Peretz et al, but having to buy a magazine with the likes of Paris Hilton on the cover to do so is just a bit much! At least this month's covergirls are credible actors. Nevertheless, I've gone on a boycott of Vanity Fair until they get their class back.

What brought Deep Springs College to mind is that Fr. John H. just dropped me a note and happened to mention it, and I remembered reading the same article as well (he shares my thoughts on Vanity Fair, btw)! Anyway, Deep Springs is an all-male liberal arts college located on a self-sustaining cattle-ranch and alfalfa farm in California's High Desert. It is a two-year college that admits only 27 students each year, 13 in the first years and 14 in the second. Naturally, the student body forms a close community engaged in an intense educational project delineated by what Deep Springs' founder, L. L. Nunn, termed the "three pillars": academics, labor and self-governance. The principle underlying the three pillars is that manual labor and political deliberation are necessary supplements to the liberal arts in the training of future servants to humanity. Everyone has responsibilities that range from farm chores to butchering. Deep Springs is also home to a megawatt academic regime, and most graduates steeped in this unique desert experience go on to finish their degrees in the American ivy league, and, even better - become citizens committed to the public good. Peter Jennings' son Chris attended there, for instance. I have a feeling Thomas W. would be be pretty impressed with Deep Springs' manliness. Any student accepted (and the application process is rigorous) is given a full scholarship worth fifty grand a year. The more I contemplate the Liberal Arts tradition of education, and look at Deep Springs' philosophy and praxis, the more impressed I am with what they are doing.

"The desert has a deep personality; it has a voice. Great leaders in all ages have sought the desert and heard its voice. You can hear it if you listen, but you cannot hear it while in the midst of uproar and strife for material things. 'Gentlemen, for what came ye into the wilderness?' Not for conventional scholastic training; not for ranch life; not to become proficient in commercial or professional pursuits for personal gain. You came to prepare for a life of service, with the understanding that superior ability and generous purpose would be expected of you."

- Deep Springs College Founder L.L. Nunn, 1923

10 Comments:

Blogger Simply Victoria said...

wow! the only thing really cool about being a man (just from my perspective, of course. nothing personal, I just really like being a girl, and all:)

9:39 PM  
Blogger Browler said...

Matt, this was a parody, right? Or is Alberta getting to you? Reassure us.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Admittedly, Derek, there is a high degree of romanticism involved with places like this... as you can see in L.L. Nunn's quote. It is all the old romanticism of the West. It has an earnestness which could perhaps be taken for lampoonish 'fromage.' Who knows? Maybe Alberta IS getting to me! I have been having frequent temptations toward utopian dreaming, or - on the other hand - nostalgic romanticism. Incidentially, VF published a rare interview with Cormac McCarthy a while back where he talked about the perils of romanticism at length. Nevertheless, I'm honestly impressed with what Deep Springs is doing.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Browler said...

I went to the website after reading your blog, and I started thinking of Charles Manson!

Isn't it just a bunch of rich kids fulfilling their homoerotic fantasies? ;)

Ah, Cormac. I must get back to Cormac McCarthy.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

There was some mention of this in the VF story, but I'd like to believe it's not the central factor in the schools identity, like, you know, British public schools.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Browler said...

I'll try to find the Vanity Fair article on line. Sounds interesting.
Good point about the British public schools, which exactly fit my description!

1:32 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

There's another good article about Deep Springs
over here.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Dueholm said...

I happened across this site, and I'm an alumnus of Deep Springs. I appreciate the post, which was thoughtful. Deep Springs is not a utopia, but it's also not homoerotic summer camp or a cult. It's an educational experiment and a wonderful, difficult place.

Great blog name, by the way.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

Ah, thanks Benjamin, for dropping by. I'm quite impressed by Deep Springs.

10:44 AM  
Blogger papa herman said...

I remember reading about this college in a past issue of Smithsonian magazine, some pics from that article can be found online at http://www.csis.gvsu.edu/~mcguire/deep_springs/

4:14 PM  

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