A Student’s Guide To Liberal Learning

I just read a marvelous essay by James Schall (a priest and professor at Georgetown) called A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning (link found from the author’s homepage, which I ran across courtesy of the Claremont Institute). It’s simply outstanding (although I found the style a little odd at times).

Schall argues that students must take responsibility for their own learning. Two passages serve as a decent introduction:

When a student arrives at a university, especially a prestige [sic] one, he will probably think that what he is about to study will be the best that he can possibly come by. He naturally expects that what he is getting is, in fact, his “money’s worth”, as they say.… This particular essay is not written for students who have no problems with the system or who, even less, do not want to find any. They will never know the difference. They will never doubt that what they are being taught is anything but the high quality stuff that it is touted to be in the brochures and media or, apparently, confirmed by the high cost of their tuition. Often however, from one’s religious or philosophical background, from one’s family, perhaps from a friend or a teacher or from something that one chanced to read or see, a young man or woman will be at least alert and, hopefully, begin to suspect that all is not well in academia, or in the culture, or, for that matter, in one’s own soul.

and also

E. F. Schumacher, in his great book, A Guide for the Perplexed, tells of going to Oxford as a young man, that is, of going to what was thought to be the greatest university of his time. He discovered that what was taught and discussed there bore little meaning and truth to him. Schumacher was forced to look elsewhere for some semblance of an education that dealt with the highest things, that took seriously what the great philosophical and religious minds really were talking about, issues that he already felt pressing in his own soul but were never addressed in the great university.

And one last observation which I found particularly interesting: In spite of most of what a student will read on the topic, revelation seeks reason, is addressed to mind and fosters it. The Bible simply has profound things to tell us, things we clearly ought to know. We now have students in class, moreover, even those who have gone to church or synagogue all their lives, who have not the faintest accurate idea about what is said in Scripture, a work that almost every generation before this era has read carefully either to understand or to dispute or to live by.

If you find Schall’s essay helpful, you might also want to read my earlier posting on Becoming Wise In College.