Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Outside the normal educational process and outside the myriads of media images

Schall: Another Sort of Learning July 4th, 2007 by JLT
A perfect book to begin the reviews (and your reading) is James V. Schall’s Another Sort of Learning. It is a perfect selection because it is about everything. It is a books of essays, “contrary essays” it claims in a subtitle too long to type and too fun to read aloud, about reading, studying, teaching, longing, thinking, evil, sanity, values, lectures, devotion, prayer, sports, and a few other things. Easily, Schall could have entitled his book “On Everything” if only Hilaire Belloc had not used that one for a book of essays in 1909.
The book begins with a quotation from Mad Magazine, and ends with a reference to Aristotle. In between the end-pages you will repeatedly encounter names such as Samuel Johnson, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Russell Kirk, Augustine, Plato, Machiavelli, Josef Pieper, Eric Voegelin, Thomas Aquinas, Flannery O’Connor, Stanley Jaki, John Henry Newman, Dorothy Sayers, and Maurice Baring. It is a book largely about reading and thinking.
What keeps one going back to the book, if not only to reread the essays, is to consult the book lists. Part of the beautiful subtitle states “Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found”. Each chapter contains at least one delightful book list; and then there is the bibliography. You will find “Eight Books on Evil and Suffering”, “Five Books Addressed to the Heart of Things”, “Sixteen Books on Belief and Disbelief”, “Eight Collections of Essays and Letters Not To Be Missed”, and so on.
It is easily read, in any chapter order, and at any speed. It is a perfect start to a journey in worthwhile books. Schall’s Another Sort of Learning is “Not To Be Missed”. This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 4th, 2007 at 8:07 pm and is filed under reviews.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007 Schall's "Sort of Learning"
Next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Fr. James V. Schall's delightful book, Another Sort of Learning, which bears, I think it is safe to say, the longest subtitle of any Ignatius Press book: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to 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.
Another Sort of Learning was the first Schall book I ever read, and it remains my favorite. The many attractive qualities of the book, which is a combination of essays and book lists, is captured well in this 1988 Touchstone review, written by John Thompson, and recently made available on the Touchstone website:
Long subtitles are apparently “in,” and so is the reconsideration of the declining role of the humanities in our society, à la Bennett, Bloom, Alder, Hirsch, et al. Fr. Schall is a bona fide enthusiast for the humanitites, but he’s no mere antiquarian. He is listening not only to the great minds of the past., but also to the questions raised by contemporary students in his political philosophy classes at Georgetown University. The result is a readable, challenging, and (necessarily) idiosyncratic book. Fr. Schall’s book stands out all the more for his willingness to flaunt contemporary taboos like belief in a deity who is more than merely a philosophical necessity.
His thesis is simple: “I believe that we are in a world today where most of this seeking must take place outside the normal educational process and outside the myriads of media images with which we are constantly confronted.” Another Sort of Learning helps to frame the questions that a moderately inquisitive person should be asking about the world, human nauture, and God. This is no “Cliff’s Notes” on philosophy; rather, it is an often tantalizing and useful guide to some of the great minds, (both Christian and non-Christian), with whom Fr. Schall vigorously interacts throughout his book.
This book, like Gaul, is divided into three parts. The first, “So You’re Still Perplexed even in College?” is essentially an apology for launching into a quest for the meaning of “what is.” The second, “Books You will Never Be Assigned,” focuses on seven contemporary titles that provide a convenient sounding board, ranging from Ralph McInerney on St. Thomas Aquinas to Jeffrey Russell on Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. The third part, “Have You Thought About It This Way?” deals with what he calls “higher order concerns”: those things that we “must read and know just because they are true”—and on the impact that a serious pursuit of these things should have, among other things, on one’s political, intellectual, and spiritual life.
Even though it is almost passé for so-called “conservative thinkers” to issue educational manifestoes and agendas calling us back from contemporary chaos to the great minds of the Western tradition, this three-hundred-page book makes a worthwhile contribution. It is much more likely to be read and used because Fr. Schall’s style is relatively light, definitely personal, and even whimsical at points. Its appeal comes not so much from what he introduces, but from the way in which he introduces the subjects and the great thinkers.
As an unabashedly personal statement, Another Sort of Learning will certainly not satisfy everyone. It will in fact invite the sneers of those who are looking for an utterly serious, systematic, high-brow treatise. For many a concerned Christian, however, it will be an enjoyable, sometimes pungent treatment of spritual and intellectual issues. It’s a friendly introduction to classics like Aristotle, Aquinas, Dr. Johnson, Belloc, as well as to contemporaries Muggeridge, Russell Kirk, and (even) Mad Magazine.
You can order the book here. Fr. Schall has been writing regular essays for IgnatiusInsight.com for three years now. Visit his author page or do a search on IgnatiusInsight.com. Posted by Carl Olson on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 at 07:19 PM

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