“And that sweet City with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening…”
What sets the University of Oxford apart from colleges in the United States? Perhaps it is numerous cobblestone streets, inviting the student and visitor to follow their paths toward one scene of history upon another, chiseled into the faces of the guardians of scholastics flanking individual colleges’ walls. Maybe it is the steady chime of the bells that ring from the colleges’ clock towers, an ever-constant reminder that time is as precious and fleeting as the student’s opportunity to cultivate the soul through learning. This is the lesson that the University of Oxford has refined since the 12th century, and, due in part to its age, preserved to a greater extent than many modern American colleges.
The tutorial system, which the colleges of Oxford employ, is founded along the premise that growth of the student’s mind and body are equally important, and as such, the student’s work and leisure should reflect this concept. Whereas in American colleges the objective of studying is much more career-focused, the goal of the tutorial system is to encourage the student’s desire to learn – to initiate conversations that seek answers, then evaluate these answers based on the student’s individual beliefs, to argue coherently, to wonder, to delve further, to ponder. Naturally, this is not an easy task to complete, involving countless hours of research, essay-writing, and discussion. This, however, is the best way to cultivate the mind, since it encourages the student to inquire into a topic of personal interest, not because it is required for a grade and eventually a career, but because the student originally wondered. After this wondering, the student is equipped with all of the necessary guidance necessary to find an answer – surrounded by tutors who can mentor the student, both personally and academically, libraries founded upon traditions and built on painstaking effort to perfect them, and an environment steeped in a history of dedication to inquiry.
Furthermore, this University recognizes the importance of leisure to the soul and body as well, which is why its individual college chapels are every bit as important as its deeply-cherished books. As students pass through worn stone corridors echoing with the angelic voices of fledgling choristers, they are accompanied by the ever-constant reminder that beauty is not solely found in earthly knowledge, and that at the end of the day, rest is every bit as much of a blessing as daily work. At the close of each day, the chapels of Oxford wreathe the town in hymns of benediction – their gentle message that leisure is necessary for work, just as the soul is necessary to the body.
This University is founded upon the belief that human beings are free creatures, with souls and bodies that must be nourished in ways that will continue to instill in them the understanding of goodness, beauty, and truth. It is important to find a calling in the workforce, yes, but in the midst of this, people cannot forget their calling to wonder, to seek, and to serve. Oxford offers a world where these are central.
Work Cited: Arnold, Matthew. The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840-1867. Oxford University Press, 1922.