CRE selection opens a lifetime of internal reflection



The “unforgiving minute” lasts a lifetime. Even with self-forgiveness.

Craig Mullaney’s “The Unforgiving Minute” chronicles his educational journey from high school, to West Point, to Oxford, to the battlefield and — his “unforgiving minute.” His story plays out on physical and intellectual levels. It is one of physicality and “mental toughness” of boot-camp training, Academy fitness, Airborne School, Ranger training and the challenges of Afghanistan.

Though dominating the story line, and providing inspiration for readers to imagine themselves in such circumstances and wonder of their own capabilities, the more subtle story line is the intellectual.

It’s also the university’s reason for selecting this book: learning how to think complexly, critically and creatively is largely fostered outside of “career oriented” education, outside the classroom, and involves strategies like: traveling broadly, exposure to other cultures, valuing complex vocabulary, learning languages, and, one of his early “life goals” — reading and thinking deeply.

Somewhere between the mental regimentation of West Point and the intellectual flight of Oxford lies the balance of a complete education with both “practical” and intellectual features. Most universities offer academic experiences where one can achieve the benefits of both models, which his journey underscores are two parts of an academic whole. Well-rounded education is not provided solely through degree requirements — but it is critical to working and living in a complex and ever-changing world.

The book’s value is showing that military experience, even vicarious, can translate into academic perspective. On the more obvious side, providing perspective on one’s own stress and challenges, personal and academic, at UK and bolstering discipline, commitment and resolve.

The less obvious perspective can be found in themes throughout the book, making the case for a deep and broad education to prepare you for the world you will work in, the democracy you will be a citizen of, and, importantly, to live a meaningful and intentional life. Sound lofty? Well it is and, it so happens, these are also the goals of UK’s vision of a complete education with a foundation in the UK Core general education program.

Mullaney’s education exemplifies those goals precisely. His endorsement of particular facets of a well-balanced, interdisciplinary and multifaceted education parallels UK Core and provides a solid structure for further education.

Reading Mullaney’s story cannot duplicate experience but can enhance your educational framework by providing the hallmarks of a “holistic” education. Intertwined throughout the description of his journey are “pearls of wisdom,” which accentuate key aspects of a sound educational strategy and some fundamental questions for all citizens to reflect on.

Since students have been reading, reflecting, discussing and writing about the book, Mullaney can speak to these components — in his own words:

“In high school, the most common questions began with what, who, or where. This was different. Now, every question began with why or how …”

“History isn’t memorizing dates, it about investigation, interpretation, and imagination.”

A book about transitions, from fact-memorization of high school to college expectations for analysis and evaluation, and to Oxford style critical and reflective reasoning:

“We probed the necessity and limits of reason … weighing decisions with a supple mind and being comfortable with nuance and uncertainty …”

Early on, Mullaney plans an educational scheme to travel and study abroad with emphasis on exotic places further from his comfort zone, expanding his horizons, inspiring new feelings, aesthetics and thinking — improving his understanding of the world and himself.

“I made a list of places I would visit … eager to visit as many of the world’s classrooms as possible.”

“Dinners were like verbal obstacle courses, but a complex vocabulary helped unlock complex ideas.”

Rapidly declining verbal skills suggest the importance and necessity of developing a vocabulary equal to the complex issues facing the world which require precise, complex ideas and solutions.

“… men were heroes and cowards at same time … most heroism in combat goes unseen or unrewarded …”

Culturally, the notion of “hero” has been rendered so common, politicized and commercialized as to lose its meaning. Recapturing the integrity of the idea requires recognition of the “fog of war” reality of combat and the role of political symbolism:

“… staged version of homecoming in the gym lacked authenticity …”

Mullaney’s writing offers ample glimpses into soldiers’ experiences and sensitizes the mind to veterans’ issues and a deeper inquiry into how one might “support the troops” beyond easy and simplistic symbolism. Mullaney’s teaching philosophy reflects the sum of his own educational journey and captures the essence of how education supports democracy.

“I challenged them to challenge conventional wisdom and to think for themselves, to take intellectual risks, not just physical ones … to re-evaluate their conclusions when the evidence changed … and to have … enough intellectual humility to question their answers …”

Reading programs, like academic majors, are designed to start, not complete, one’s learning. Unfortunately, one can graduate without achieving any goals of UK Core. This common reading experience can set a course where that won’t happen.

An “unforgiving minute” will last a lifetime, but it also can promote a lifetime of reflection and thoughtfulness for one with experience and for the empathic reader.