Book Recommendations,  Education,  The Good Life

Another Sort of Learning (Book Recommendation)

Still looking for a great gift for the high school graduate in your life?

Consider the book with the best subtitle of the twentieth century, Fr. James V. Schall’s Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on the Completion of Our Knowing or How to Finally Acquire an Education While Still in College, or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found.

This is the first commencement season since Fr. Schall’s death in April. Nothing would better memorialize this extraordinary teacher, writer, and philosopher than blessing the next generation with Another Sort of Learning – not only the book but the way of thinking found therein.

“If I am concerned about teaching or lecturing or grading,” writes Fr. Schall in the introduction, “it is because I am most concerned about the highest things to which we are called, called by being attracted to them in our souls, which are somehow open to what is beyond us.” In terms of the final purpose of education, Schall was a man who still believed in those highest things. But he also recognized that in so believing, he was a man out of step with his age. He saw the academic institutions around him becoming increasingly utilitarian. As he writes:

These reflections are intended to challenge us, to cause us to wonder about the validity of what it is we are formally taught. I do not think that our higher educational institutions encourage in us a serious consideration of the power of highest things. I have noticed too many intelligent and sensitive young men and women who darkly suspect this lack, especially in the best schools, I would say, because the best schools often do not realize that they are missing the most important things.

Fr. Schall was not a utilitarian, except in the highest sense. He was a man immersed in the intellectual culture of thinkers like Étienne Gilson, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russell Kirk, Jacques Maritain, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Herbert Butterfield, Christopher Dawson, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Gabriel Marcel, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, John Henry Newman, and Josef Pieper. He was fluent in the best lay-thinkers of his generation, and that fluency comes out in his accessible writing. The essays in Another Sort of Learning are as diverse and quizzical as the subtitle of the work. There are pieces on topics such as Plato and Aristotle, evil, suffering, prayer and belief. The essays “Grades” (timely given the rise of anxiety among our teen and college-age young men and women), “What a Student Owes His Teacher,” and the surprising “On the Seriousness of Sports” are particularly noteworthy.

Is the book dated? Perhaps so. Fr. Schall was a man of his time, and maybe that time is vanishing. Maybe the age of the university as nothing more than a certifying institution really is upon us. But a passage from Another Sort of Learning offers some hope buried in the authentic longings of a college-bound young person:

This sort of experience is why we go to university as young men and women: the chance that we might find there, once or twice if we are lucky, a wise man to teach us, or at least to teach us about the wise men and women who lived before our own lifetimes.

Even if we were to concede that this is no longer true, or has been diminished, perhaps putting Another Sort of Education into in the hands of an eighteen-year-old eager for wisdom might help it become true again.

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NOTE: At the time of publication of this article a very limited number of books were available through Amazon.com. The book can also be purchased directly from Ignatius Press.

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