Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Teaching and Learning

One of my favorite modern authors is James V. Schall, professor of political science at Georgetown university and author of many wonderful books. He has written an excellent essay on teaching and learning in his book, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, writing, playing, believing, lecturing, philosophizing, singing and dancing. The title of the essay is "On Teaching and Being Eminently Teachable."
Schall begins the essay by noting a remark by Leo Strauss: "We are lucky if our lives coincide with . . . one or two of the greatest human thinkers to ever live." The point of this statement is that most of the great thinkers will be encountered in their writings. Schall notes, "If we are to confront the greatest minds, we must do so in their books, to which we must be attend with the greatest care and respect" (15). This is an important point. With a little effort on our part, we can attend the classroom of the greatest thinkers who ever lived. We can converse with Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and many others. I would recommend reading Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book on knowing how to converse with these authors. Father Schall is a great teacher of these major thinkers. Another good guide would be Peter Kreeft.

Another important point that Schall makes is that our mind "is capable of knowing all that is" (15). We can know the truth that is contained in all these authors. We can achieve know of the good, truth, and beauty. We have the ability within us to obtain truth. Aristotle said we "should strain every nerve to live with the best thing in us" (16). We should not settle for scientific reductionism which says that we cannot know universal truth. Schall notes, "No one will seek the highest if he believes that there is no truth" (17). We must stand with Augustine and affirm as our creed, faith seeking understanding. We can know the truth about ourselves, God, man, and many other Great Ideas. We are capable of knowing all that is.

Schall drawing from Plato says we must have an intellectual curiosity if we will seek after truth. Plato wrote, "the one who is willing to taste every kind of learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with delight, and is insatiable, we we shall justly assert to be a philosopher" (18). A philosopher is a lover of wisdom. We must have an eros for truth.Schall says that Socratic eros is a fascination with reality.  The author speaks truly when he says that education "is today largely a matter of private enterprise, good fortune, and reading things that few assign or praise" (20). In other words, education requires effort on our part. A good book to explore this subject further is Schall's Another Sort of Learning.

Schall makes other important points in this essay. For example, the importance of virtue in seeking truth. But I hope enough has been said to motivate you to read this essay. Father Schall is a good teacher for those who want to learn but do not know how to go about it.

1 comment:

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