Friday, May 20, 2016

On Teaching and Being Eminently Teachable

James V. Schall, "On Teaching and Being Eminently Teachable" in On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. ISI Books, 2001. 1882926633

I love the title of his book of essays. It pretty much sums up the good life. In his essay on teaching and being teachable, Schall reflects on the statement by Leo Strauss that "we are lucky if our lives coincide with those of one or two of the greatest human thinkers to ever live" (15). If we are to encounter the greatest thinkers who ever live we will discover them in their books. It is helpful to have guides to help us in our learning because of three problems suggested by Thomas Aquinas. First, the student is confronted by a multiplicity of information, for example, all the courses offered in a typical university. Where should the student begin. The second problem is that the knowledge of a particular discipline (history, science, philosophy, literature) is not presented "after the order of the discipline or the subject itself but are instead presented simply according to the arbitrary structure of a book, topic of dispute, or conversation" (23). Saint Thomas believed there was an order to learning. There is a certain order to the relationship between a subject and its parts. The third problem is the confusion of the student from encountering "a mass of unrelated material." Aquinas thought because of these problems that it was helpful to have a guide to learning. I know I have had several guides over the years: Thomas Aquinas, Plato, Augustine, C. S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, Josef Pieper, Mortimer Adler, and others. Schall observes, "But for most of us, an orderly learning is far easier and more productive. With the aid of someone who knows already, who has been through all the mistakes one is likely to make, and who takes delight in truth, we can learn easily, provided we allow ourselves to be eminently teachable" (24).

What does it mean to be eminently teachable? I am glad you asked. Yves Simon thought there were three types of students: those who are only interested in grades, those who continuously asks questions but does not listen, and the third student "recognizes that he must take responsibility for his education and has a certain faith or trust that someone else can guide him" (24). What kind of a learner are you? Simon's point about taking responsibility for our learning is remarkable? What do you think he means by this concept? What does it mean to take responsibility for our learning? One thing is that we need to have the desire for learning. Another characteristic for  learning is we must have an "inquiring mind wondering about the truth of things." Plato stated that the student "who is willing to taste every kind of learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with delight, and is insatiable" (18). We must have a (eros) love for the truth. We have to seek it with all our being. The best thing about learning is that it does not require formal schooling. It can occur any place at any time. We are never too young or too old to begin the journey of learning. In addition, our learning does not have to end with the ending of our formal schooling.

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