Father Schall on liberal education.
This is a time of year when many are going 'back to school' both as students and as teachers, so it seems opportune to post something on the project of liberal education. This video features some thoughts on that subject by Father James V. Schall, S.J. of Georgetown University, delivered this spring in a lecture at Villanova. The video is nearly eighty minutes long, including questions from the audience, but I hope that those of you who are interested can find some time during the coming week to sit and watch the whole thing.
Why, some might ask, should one give a hearing (and a viewing) to Father Schall? The first way that I could answer that question is to say that Father Schall also remains one of the very best teachers I've ever had, which ought to mean something given that I'm about to begin my twenty-third year of formal education. Most readers of this blog won't be able to sign up for a course with Father Schall, but you can at least watch him on video or read some of his many books (Another Sort of Learning is the best place to start) to see what you think.
For Georgetown students who can sign up for a course with Father Schall, I must answer the "why" question differently. If I could give only one piece of advice to all current Georgetown undergraduates, regardless of their individual academic interests or future plans, I would tell them to make sure to take at least one course from Father Schall, a generous and selfless man who has become a living legend on the Hilltop and has helped generations of Hoyas discover what college is really about. At eighty-four, Father Schall still teaches two courses each semester and regularly turns out two or three books a year as well as numerous articles. So, young Hoyas, get to know the man!
The above video doesn't really capture the experience of sitting in one of Father Schall's classes - except, perhaps, towards the end when Schall walks into the audience to dialogue face-to-face with his questioners - but it still offers many gems. You can hear Father Schall explain why even college students can benefit from an annual reading of Cicero's essay De Senectute ("On Old Age"), warn student listeners to avoid the mortal sin of graduating without having read Augustine's Confessions, urge the reading of Josef Pieper and other greats, and deal gamely with a brief and unexpected blackout in the lecture hall. If you decide to read something new on the basis of watching this video - Cicero, Augustine, Pieper, or anything else - then this post will have served its purpose; as Father Schall himself says, "Look, what's important is the book - not what Schall says, not what anybody else says; it's what you read in the book that's important!"
Writing over a century ago, Henry Adams warned that "[t]he chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught." In this new academic year, I pray that all concerned in education will grow in wisdom and grace. AMDG.