Wendell Berry writes in Jayber Crow: A Place on Earth that Jayber grew up in an orphanage—reading constantly; then off to college he went, continuing to read. However, Jayber was ‘vastly more inclined to learn than to be taught.’
How does one allow oneself to be taught? GK Chesterton wrote there’s no such thing as a boring subject; only bored people. But I’m not sure how much that helps.
James Schall, S.J. reminded his students of political philosophy at Georgetown, “Remember, the Summa was written for beginners.” And those ideas take us to the idea of what does it take to learn? And what does it take to learn at Nashotah House. This summer, I was asked by an incoming junior, what is one sentence I would offer about what to expect at Nashotah House. I said, “Nashotah House has much to teach if you’re willing to learn; however, it might not always be what you expect.”
But there are two things about learning that Fr. Schall in his book On The Unseriousness Of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing reminds students, and Nashotah House would fit right in with this teaching.
There is an order to learning and being taught.
Thomas Aquinas called it ordo discipulae. No one learns the piano without first learning notes. We might mimic but we cannot learn. No one learns a language without the sheer, blessed step-by-step process of the grammar. And it may take a long time. A long time. To master. Think of a number of us—let loose at will in a library—we may find it difficult to allow ourselves to be taught.
Beware of fastidium et confusionem.
Fr. Schall notes that Thomas Aquinas tells the magister to beware of fastidium et confusionem. This occurs when the student cannot see what the point is of the ordo discipulae. Should that arise, then perhaps the material is unrelated, a hodge podge, full of odds and ends? Of course, we can and do learn by ourselves. But this can lead to cake pans full of fastidium et confusionem. Isn’t it easier to learn from someone who knows how? Plus, as we learn the truth, shouldn’t we be directed to toss out the confusing and irrelevant, and to know how to chuck it best?
Another junior asked what is the best way to study? I thought that was charming. And after I asked him if he was talking to the right person, I said, are you asking the right question? And he said, What? And I said, I think that’s the right question.
So we chatted. And I told him about Fr. Schall who asked his students, what is it about learning that makes it worth learning?
Learning has value because of our gratitude as students in receiving the said learning. Indeed, what is the best way to begin studying. By being grateful for what we are being taught.
If you haven’t yet met the writings of James V. Schall, S.J., it is suggested by the writer that you do. Because you will find great joy in his teaching.
By Rebecca Terhune, ’15