Column: CEO Learnings
The Rev. James V. Schall’s “Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught” is an antidote to what has evolved on today’s college campuses with the suppression of dialogue among students, faculty and administrators.
In this book, the late Fr. Schall, a Professor Emeritus from Georgetown University, reminds us about the ‘sacred’ search for Truth, the importance of dialogue, and the roles played by both the teacher and the student in seeking Truth.
Thomas Aquinas tells us that “Truth is in the judgment of what is and what is not, whether it is or is not. All depends upon our ability to know the truth and act on it, to speak of it to others as if we are talking about a reality that we, with them, objectively encounter outside ourselves.”
Truth is discoverable (contrary to modern thought)
The purpose of thinking is to know the truth of what is. We do not will truth to be truth. We need to discover it.
Facing the truth of things is both our glory and our burden.
Man always does better when he knows the Truth because what really makes us “wiser and happier” is not of our making. We are ordered to what we are given by God, not to what we make, however wondrous that may be.
Genuinely seeking truth requires humility
Seeking the truth is difficult because we sense it will require us to change our lives.
An easier path, and the path most often traveled, is to create our own truths and miss the “delight” of knowing. Knowing is about being more than we already are.
“Docilitas,”is the capacity of being able to be taught. It is related to the idea of a gift, of something that is given unexpectedly. Only when we are docile—teachable—do we really begin to think. We need to be open to what is.
Our attitudes as a student are critical to “knowing.”
“The classroom splits into three groups:,” writes Fr. Schall, “those who are perfectly submissive because their only interest is to get a credit (a grade), those who are said to have powerfully critical minds (they already know all the answers), and those described as intelligently teachable.”
We have all known a person or two who may have had high IQs but who were flops in life. These people lacked “teachableness,” as Fr.Schall describes them. They did not do the work needed so that they could be taught what they did not know. They lacked interest in knowing the truth of the matter at hand.
Do you want to know?
The “wanting” to know is the most important element in the whole intellectual process. Without this desire to know, nothing much happens in us. While we may inspire others, we cannot give them this willingness to know.
If we truly want to know, then we must enter the presence of any teacher that desire of “wanting to know.”
Student-teacher relationship is unique
The relation of the professor to the student is essentially “spiritual.” The student enters the classroom surrendering his/her soul to the teacher who is a guide—not a guide to the professor’s truth, but rather a guide to the truth of knowing something not of our own making.
The first principle of teaching is that knowledge of what is true is not owned by the professor.
Knowledge of what is true is free and freeing, which is central to a liberal education. It deals with those things that are universally free, universally open to all of us because they are true. Truths are there to be found, regardless of whether or not we find them. They are known for their own sake.
The mark of a great professor
Great professors take the student on a journey to discover a truth that itself has a basis in what is…in reality. By following the guidance of a wise professor, the student comes to know the truth of something that is not owned by the professor, the university or the state.
Unfortunately, an emphasis on truth—objective truth—today is counter-cultural.
“Truth is said to be our ‘enemy,’” writes Fr. Schall. “Its claims divide us.”
But in reality, telling the truth and trusting in words spoken are the basis of our living together and therefore what we “owe” to one another.
Truth and Freedom
The greatest good we can do for our neighbor and our community is to speak the Truth and lead others to it so that we can act on it….lest we be not free.
Today, there are aggressive political, media-related and social efforts to prevent truth from being known or even discussed. This is an illiberal moment in our history. Students, in the name of truth, are being told to conform, not to what is, but to what others want it to be.
We are no longer discovering but creating new norms—for our human nature, how we relate to one another, how we define gender, and how we define good and evil—in the name of so-called truth (that is, a professor’s “truth” or an ideology’s “truth”. Such an approach denies the fundamental elements involved in discovering real truth.
Such an approach holds that no natural law or order can be found in things.
But, as Fr. Schall points out: “This radical interpretation of intellectual freedom does not belong to liberalism” nor does it provide freedom.
“This leaves us with a culture of relativism and skepticism today. The knowing mind does not know where to go,” Fr. Schall continues.
A Quick recap of Docilitas:
Fr. Schall’s “Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught,” one of over 30 books he authored, is a collection of his speeches given over a number of years at colleges and universities. The book is organized around “teaching and being taught”:
- Introduction, “Knowledge is Not ‘Owned”
- Patron Saint of Teachers
- Intellectual Resources
- On Teaching
- Why Professors Need Students and Other Philosophical Fables
- Questions Proper to the University
- The Reading Room
- On Teaching and the Highest Good
- Reading without Learning
- What Makes Liberal Education “liberal”?
- Aquinas in the Life of the Mind
- What Must I Read to Be Saved?
- Seneca on Personal Libraries
- On the Uselessness of Philosophers
- But What Is a Book?
- On the “Fixing of Our Gaze”
- Conclusion and “Fifteen Books to be Taught By”
- Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught — by Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.
- “Life and Death with a Jesuit Father James Schall on the Important Things” — Crux Now
- “A Final Gladness, A Last Lecture by Father James V. Schall” . Nearly a thousand of Fr. Schall’s former students (from all over the world) and undergraduates gathered at Georgetown in December 2012 to join Fr. Schall for his parting lecture that focused on friendship.
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