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An Early Gladness
Friday, December 7th, 2012 — the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the 2,065th (kinda) of the assassination of Cicero — marked the end of an era spanning more than five decades at Georgetown, when Father James Schall gave his final lecture.
If memory serves, I have Amazon.com and my wonderful girlfriend to thank for encountering Fr. Schall and his ideas. One of his best-known books, Another Sort of Learning, popped up on my Amazon home page some time ago, and Sarah bought it for me as a gift shortly thereafter.
Another Sort of Learning has a 53-word subtitle: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College orAnywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found. I’ve put in bold three parts that strike me as especially noteworthy.
First, the phrase “or anywhere else”: it’s all too easy to believe that education as a merely formal, school-based process. Viewing it this way, as nothing more than the result of a long process involving what a friend of mine once called “a culture of deadlines,” seems to lead inexorably to the sense of burnout so many of us feel near the end of every semester. There are certainly numerous, valuable things to be learned in this formal way, but those things are not the only things, and that way is not the only way. Much of the book amounts to a refreshing, elegant exposition of this point.
Second, on a related note, the phrase “leisure time,” which surely strikes many of us as a bit darkly comical. I end up spending what little “leisure time” I have watching sports, reruns of The Simpsons, or other similarly mindless activities.Fr. Schall provides a useful service in recovering the ancient notion of leisure (otium in Latin), one in which “leisure” refers (ideally) to the time allotted to the contemplation of the “ultimate questions” which also appear in the subtitle.
Last, and most important to me, “sundry book lists.” Even before reading Another Sort of Learning, I had occasional feelings that I was “missing something,” but along with those feelings came the paralyzing fear that I had no idea where to start. Fr. Schall’s book is so wonderful precisely because it offers diagnoses and prescriptions, and because Fr. Schall understands so clearly that his book is a starting-point, not an end unto itself.
I’m not sure what I’ll be doing after graduation, but I hope to become a teacher at some point in my life. If and when I do, I’ll read parts of Another Sort of Learning with my students, especially the short but densely-packed chapter entitled “Why Read.” Drawing on Leo Strauss, Schall argues that one purpose of reading is to gain access to the ideas of the greatest minds, whose lives have been scattered throughout the ages. Another Sort of Learning makes clear that Schall is among those greatest minds.
Fr. Schall chose to title his last lecture “The Final Gladness.” For me, reading Another Sort of Learning has been an early gladness, one which I trust will lead me to more and sweeter ones in the future. I very much look forward to reading his other work; to discussing his ideas someday with my children and, perhaps, my students; and above all to considering the questions to which Fr. Schall has opened my mind.
NB: You can watch the entirety of Fr. Schall’s lecture here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xN1rFyYbKak
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