(Sept, 2010) As the new school year begins, it seems important to take a deep look at knowledge and learning. Our human selves crave information. From the time we are small children until we reach our
senior years, we are constantly asking questions and seeking answers. Are we there yet? Will I attend college? Who will care for me as I age? We are absolutely brimming with questions. We are endlessly seeking information, and
we do so in various ways. The questions that spurt continuously from the mouths of small children are just a small example of how we as humans gather information informally. As we grow, however, we realize that we have a greater
need to acquire larger quantities of more focused knowledge, and to do so we must attend high school and then perhaps college.
In our quest for knowledge we often learn more about ourselves than we learn about our original object of fascination. We learn that we knew even less than we thought. We learn that we have great skills
as well as large flaws. Happily though, those teaching us are usually most willing to point out our mistakes and help us to work through them. No where am I personally more corrected and better taught than with the Mount Saint
Maryís ROTC program. Every day my classmates and I are presented with distinct challenges and timelines in which to solve those challenges. We as students, as cadets, and as human beings are pushed to our breaking points and
then asked to go even further. We ourselves are buffeted with questions and expected to answer them realistically and well. ROTC gives us the skills to integrate the things we learn in our college classrooms with information we
are taught in the field. Because of the training we receive during college, we will become informed, confident, and strong soldiers. We in turn are expected and privileged to help train those younger than us.
In fact, we are currently training a fresh batch of incoming freshmen cadets. Every one of them radiates wonder and awe. They are prepared to learn from us as upperclassmen, and they are excited to
finally experience the incredible adventure that is college. I was altogether unprepared to see so many glimpses of myself as a young freshman in them. I, too, was once consumed with wonder at the sight of the juniors and
seniors. I, too, was once filled with awe at the amount of knowledge my superiors possessed. It is incredible to think that just a few years ago I was the freshman that was being taught and now I am the teacher.
Interestingly too, through training the incoming freshmen my mind was brought back to Platoís Allegory of the Cave, which appears in Book VII of The Republic, and which I had the opportunity to read in
one of my philosophy courses last year. In it, Socrates details the lives of people who undergo a certain experiment from birth. They are chained up in a cave in such a way that they are forced to face a wall and cannot turn
their heads or necks. There is a fire behind them that casts light on the wall, and people walk back and forth periodically behind them holding objects whose shadows appear on the cave wall in front of those who are in chains.
Those who are chained naturally assume that the shadows they see are in fact absolute reality. Socrates proposes that those in chains then be dragged outside into the light. The brilliance and amount of light outside would blind
their unaccustomed eyes, but they would eventually become used to the light and be able to see clearly again. They would then realize that the shadows they had previously seen on the cave wall were not actually complete reality,
but in fact, only a fraction of reality.
Now as I was remembering The Allegory of the Cave and relating it to the incoming freshmen, I was picturing their first years of education as their being chained to the wall. There was only so much
information their teachers could reveal to them, and it turned out to be mere shadows on a wall rather than absolute reality because their young minds were not yet ready to experience a complete emersion in light. Now that they
have come here, they have been dragged out of the cave into the light, and this has been done by us. The same thing happened when I myself showed up to Mount Saint Maryís as a young cadet. I had some assumed knowledge about what
I was about to undertake, but it was all mere shadows on the wall compared to what I have actually experienced. It was not until I was dragged out into the open-both physically and mentally-by ROTC that I realized what I had
previously seen was only a glimpse of reality.
Indeed it has been the very same for this current class of incoming freshmen as it was for me two years ago, and despite all of the changes that our world will undergo, it will be the very same for next
year's incoming freshmen, and the next year's, and so on. Each young, innocent freshman experiences an epiphany of sorts when he begins college. He is filled with the exact same wonder and awe that I myself was filled with just
a few years ago. He is on the cusp of something incredible and amazing: the start of his life, and now that I am an upperclassman, I have the privilege of helping him start it.
Read other articles by Julia Mulqueen