Saturday, October 27, 2012

Schall on "20-year-oldness."

In a column published in yesterday's edition of The Hoya, the great Father James V. Schall, S.J. - seen and heard many times before on this blog, most recently last month - offers some timeless words on the intelligence and academic potential of twenty-year-olds:
A professor who has been many years at a school is often asked by visitors: "Do you notice any difference between current students and those from previous decades?" I always answer that question pretty much the same way: "Look, all the students I ever have are around 20 years old. A 20-year-old is a 20-year-old. The students I had 30 years ago were just as intelligent and capable as those I have today — no more, no less."

What really counts to a teacher is not relative intelligence but what the student reads and knows, whether he wants to know and whether he is suddenly awake to ultimate things. All generations of 20-year-olds stand before the same reality, before what is. Any professor worth his salt at this or other university can recall his own "20-year-oldness," a time when something happened that woke him up to something beyond himself.

When I reread with a class the following lines from Allan Bloom in his Shakespeare’s Politics, I think of this question about the intelligence of students: "The beauty of words is but a reflection of the beauty of the thing; the poet is immersed in the thing, which is the only source of true beauty." Bloom brings poetry into the context of political philosophy; after all, Socrates’ main prosecutor at his trial in Athens was a poet. Bloom comes from a tradition suggesting that we cannot understand political things unless we have some idea of all things in their order.
In light of my own experience of university teaching, I couldn't help but smile when I read the next few paragraphs in Father Schall's column, which also made me ponder again that dangerous question sometimes posed by student to teacher, "Did I miss anything?":
But getting students to come to class prepared for that moment of immersion is an uphill battle.

It starts with the question of missing class. I confess to being somewhat of an idealist. Enforcing attendance is a duty in justice to whoever is footing the bills, but I also think students should come to class prepared. They should have read intelligently the matter at hand. But human nature, being what it is — in a condition of "fallen-ness," as the Orthodox theologians say — manages to miss class now and then.

When this happens, I often get a note from the missing student telling me that he has flu, is at lacrosse practice or works in the White House or some law firm downtown. He tells me that he will "get the notes" from his friend Fred, who unfortunately did not have such a pressing reason to miss class. By this time, I have often written and stated in class: “Please, never tell me that you will 'get someone's notes,' Class is not about notes, even mine, but about the text at hand." This text is what is follow-up inspections did not enforce the timeline required by violators to be read, not someone’s notes.
To read the rest - and I hope you will - click here. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home