Friday, December 9, 2016


Mortimer Jerome Adler, Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind, edited by Geraldine Van Doren. New York: Macmillan, 1988. 362 pages.

I am rereading Adler's Reforming Education. It is a collection of essays or lectures he did throughout his life. The book provides a good overall view of Adler's thought on education. I read the book several years ago and I am now reading it again with much pleasure. I was reading his essay on docility this morning. He begins the essay by distinguishing between study and curiosity. This distinction was emphasized in the Medieval period by Catholic scholars. Studiositas refers to the virtue of studying the important things. Curiositas was the vice of emphasizing the non-essentials. These two terms had to do with the virtue of temperance. The virtue is the golden mean between two extremes according to Aristotle. Adler thinks that learning is basically discovery. It can be direct discovery or discovery through the help of a teacher. Study and curiosity concerns direct discovery. Most learning is indirect discovery through instruction. Docility is the virtue in regards to learning with the help of a teacher. So, docility would be the mean between the extremes of subservience and pride. Docility means the willingness and ability to learn from others. Adler asserts in another essay that teaching is a cooperative activity with the learner. The learning takes place in the learner. Because of this idea, Adler does not think learning is the teacher pouring what he knows to the learner. In addition, it is not the teacher lecturing and the learner memorizing information to be regurgitated to the teacher. This is exercising the memory and not the intellect of the learner. Adler believes the best way to cooperate with the learner is through the socratic method, the asking of questions. At first, the learner might not see the truth of what the master/scholar is teaching him, but he accepts it temporarily based on the authority of the teacher. However, he must not stay in this situation because that would be subservience or slavery. The goal is that the student will ultimately accept the principle or truth not because of the words of the teacher, but because of his own reason. The student must accept the truth because his own reason impels him to do so. The teacher as well as the student will continue learning their whole life. Mostly the teacher will learn from the best minds of the past through time. So, he will be both a teacher and learner. The major player in learning is the learner himself. The teacher plays a subsidiary role.

Another point that I have seen recently in my readings is the importance of questions. Many Christians say Jesus is the answer, but they do not know the questions. That is putting the cart before the horse. It is actually through questions that the intellect of the learner is actually activated. Questions causes some confusion in the learner. He is not sure what the question. He goes on a quest to discover answer to his questions which might lead to more questions. As Socrates, the teacher is teaching through dialectics or the discussion of questions. I am afraid that what often happens in schools is indoctrination, not education. For example, some of the colleges I have been a member emphasize answers, not questions. They tell the students what they are to believe. Questions are not emphasized, but correct answers. Wrong answers are frowned on. This method of indoctrination does not seem helpful in teaching the learner to stand on their own feet.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On Teaching and Being Taught

James v. Schall, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. ST. Augustine's Press, 2016. 194 pages. ISBN 978-1-57831-182-6

I am always interested when a new book by Father Schall comes out. I have been reading his books for over 15 years. He has written over thirty books, and I have read most of them if not all of them. Some of them, I have read multiple times. I have never been disappointed in reading a book by Schall and I was not disappointed in reading his new book, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. Docilitas is a Latin word that means being teachable. Schall writes, "the emphasis should be on one's openess, on one's delight, in being taught" (6). This book contains sixteen chapters, each of these chapters were lectures Schall delivered at different colleges and universities. Some of the titles are: "Knowledge is not owned," "Patron Saint of Teachers," "Questions Proper to the University," "Reading without Learning," "What Makes Liberal Education 'Liberal'?, "Aquinas and the Life of the Mind," "What Must I Read to be Saved," and "Seneca on Personal Libraries." Docilitas is a good companion to some other books Schall wrote on teaching and learning: Another Sort of Learning, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs,  and The Life of the Mind.

In the introduction, Schall asserts, "Undergraduate and most graduates on leaving school in the springtime, are not really old enough to know what fully goes on within them" (16). One is not educated after receiving a college education. Aristotle said youth itself is an obstacle to learning. Both Schall and Mortimer Adler both have said that one cannot be educated till after fifty. The best that a college education can do is to provide the tools of learning and a minimum knowledge of general learning that the student can go on learning once they leave school and if they continue this learning, they have a good chance of being a general education human being. The student, however, needs an introduction to learning. Schall believes the professor exists "to facilitate the first reading" of a great work. A great work is not really read if it is only read once. College gives the student a beginning on the road of knowledge. Schall states, "We thus must wonder about the difference between knowledge, information, and wisdom" (30). One wonders if many even realize a difference between the three. Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom. The end of education should be wisdom.

The author makes some good points in his chapter on, "What Makes Liberal Education 'Liberal'?" Schall notes, "Ultimately, I think, what is 'liberal' about liberal education is the awareness that our minds are measured by reality. Truth is, as Aquinas said, the conformity of mind with what is" (99). The truth of things is an important emphasis in all of Schall's writings. We might not learn the truth of things in the modern academy. Sometimes, we will study the important truths outside of the academy. Liberal, basically, means the freeing arts. The arts that enable us to pursue the truth of things. We must also have good moral habits to pursue the truth of things.

Schall, in "Aquinas and the Life of the Mind" states that Aquinas was the only saint canonized for his thinking? Does this suggest the importance the Catholic church puts on thinking. Schall asserts that Aquinas is "most famous for his defense of ordinary things along with our natural ability to know them and speak in our words to indicate what they are. We can and do, like Adam name things, whereby we can communicate with one another about the reality that surrounds us, the reality within us" (103-104). Thomas Aquinas is a great thinker and he is worth reading. Thomas supports both the life of the mind and the spiritual life or the life of faith. Schall states, "To be able to understand and explain a text, as it stands, not as we would like it to stand, must be the beginning of any true education" (105). The ability to read and understand a book is a great skill. It is falsely thought that once you learn to read that you now have the skill of reading which is not true. There is a big difference between beginning to read and the skill to be able to read almost anything and to understand it. We grow as a reader by reading things over our head. Schall asserts, "There is no intellectual pleasure, I think, quite like reading and understanding even one article in the works of Thomas Aquinas. To learn to do so is worth your whole college career" (106). Schall likes to say that you do not have a college education if you have not reading Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. I believe he is correct.

Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught is a great book on teaching and learning. It teaches us how to be the right kind of learner. It provides guidance on how to continue learning our whole life. It tells us how to discern the wrong kind of teachers. In other words, it is classic Schall.