Class #2 – Early Western Civilization Seminar
Assigned Reading: A Student’s Guide To Liberal Learning, by James V. Schall
- What do you enjoy reading? What do you read? Does it make a difference? “Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed.”( ~ Seneca) What kind of books does Schall refer to in his book.
- Schall refers to Plato’s productions as “literary works” and Aristotle’s as “more pedestrian classnotes and lectures.” (page 1) What is the contrast that he is identifying with these referents?
- In several places in the book Schall claims that a denial of truth is prominent in the current Zeitgeist. Do you think this is a problem? Is this related to common thought regarding “toleration?” “… sin?” “… judging?” “… inability to speak on a particular subject unless you have been through that experience yourself?” Are those who deny “truth” in the spiritual realm consistent when it comes to the manner in which they live in the physical world?
- Do you agree that reading the classics is essential to restoring a vital intellectual life that is open to truth? What is truth? Do you think that the average person would agree with Plato’s definition of truth? (page 10)
- Schall refers to an endemic of biblical illiteracy? (page 12) Do you think it is as bad as he suggests? Is our generation different from previous generations when it comes to knowing what the Bible says?
- Does Schall expect most students to get a good college education? Why, or why not? How would you respond to his question found in the last sentence on page 13?
- What do you think about Bloom’s suggestion that music may be the real educator of our youth? (page 17)
- In “Reading”, Henry David Thoreau writes, “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!” Consider Schall’s account of the transformation of Augustine after reading the Hortensius. Can you point to such an occurrence in your life? If not, why not? (page 18)
- What do you think of Chesterton’s definition of humility, found on page 24?
- When we discover contradictions and error in the “great books” should we resort to apathy, skepticism, or relativism? (page 24)
- Schall claims that self-denial/self-discipline is primary and essential to education. Do you agree? Just how important is it? Re-read the last paragraph of page 25/first paragraph of page 26. What role do you think self-discipline will play in how well you do at Southwestern? “When a man is busy at study, the Evil Impulse whispers to him: Why tarryest thou here. Go and join the men who flirt with pretty women.” – Talmud, Zohar, ii, 265b
- Do you agree with the author about the relationship between self-discipline and freedom? Schall says that self-discipline will set you free; Jesus said that the truth will set you free. Which is it? (page 29) He also says that reading is freeing (page 43), can he not make up his mind?
- Schall notes that “we don’t have to read everything.” (page 31) In fact, it would be impossible to do so. So what should you read? “Read properly, fewer books than a hundred would suffice for a liberal education. Read superficially, the British Museum Library might still leave the student a barbarian.” (~ A. R. Orage)
- Schall refers to the reading of Shakespeare; (page 32) do you think it is taking a shortcut to watch Shakespeare’s plays rather than reading them? (for additional thought: http://kevinstilley.com/ode-to-shakespeare-in-modern-english-editions/)
- Regarding the roles of student- teacher Schall writes, “This is what I have tried to do for students in insisting that they come to class regularly, after having carefully read the text. The student who does not do this work himself is unteachable. No teacher can really help him.” (page 39) Do you agree?
- Schall defines a personal library as books that we have read again. (page 34) What is the value of re-reading? “When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.” ~ Clifton Fadiman. Is there a similarity between anthropological field work and reading a great book?
- Consider Schall’s comments about those to whom a student “owes” something for their education. Who do you owe? (page 36ff)
- What is the value of reading a book in community rather than in isolation? (page 42ff) Watch the video clip from Apartment for Peggy; http://kevinstilley.com/the-benefits-of-colloquium/
- Schall reminds us that, as Aristotle pointed out, “that many people who do not know books are nevertheless very wise.” (pages 43-44) Does this take away from his previous argumentation regarding the value of books? Does this warn against letting your learning make you arrogant?
Questions For The Final Exam from this material:
- Probably None
Recommended Additional Reading:
- “On the Reading of Old Books” by C.S. Lewis
- The Best Things in Life, by Peter Kreeft
- A Student’s Guide to The Core Curriculum, by Mark C. Henrie
- From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics, by Louis Markos
- When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought, by John Mark Reynolds