But sometimes my other great love wanders in here and I have a hard time pushing it out- the classics and great books. This post is about them - I am totally breaking my "not just talking about school" rule.
Background: I attended an entirely discussion based - (NONE of our classes are lectures) classics college program and graduated. I am feeling a little "school-sick" here in August. (For more information google Thomas Aquinas Collge or St. John's College to learn more about great books).
Thinking about the fact that I am not going back to school in the fall makes me aware of a sort of empty void. When I graduated so many people asked me (most of them not very familiar with my educational background or the kind of school that I attended) “ Aren’t you glad to be done?” or “You are finally finished whoo- woo!”… To which I responded courteously, “grumble…mumble… no idea….what they are talking about,”. In some ways yes I am happy to be done, but in most ways, I am not happy. It is not like I will ever be done wanting to read great books and discuss them – and Thomas Aquinas (and St. John’s) were places in which these books were the focal point of my life, they took precedence over everything else I did. In many ways I have lost the love of my life, reading the Phaedrus cemented that for me – “be a lover of wisdom” shouts Socrates as I walk back into the hustle and bustle of the city, not knowing when I will see him again. Knowing that this all consuming education might never be the case again cast a kind of funereal pall over graduation.
As a result I wanted to write some things that I have learned – or tips:
Fall In Love –
a. Fall in love with the books.
b. Fall in love with the discussion method.
Discussion is an art form.
- Ask yourself, “What continues a conversation and what shuts it down?”
In improvisational comedy actors are on a stage for hours at a time, without any previous script making people in an audience laugh. How does this happen? How does the story line continue for half an hour or longer? There is a secret something called a “yes rule” the actors say “yes” to what the other person proposes this allows the story to continue as opposed to shutting it down.  Think about what brings a conversation to life. Sometimes opposition enlivens a conversation sometimes opposition is killing it – pay attention. Know the difference. In class you should be asking yourself, “Is what I am doing fueling the conversation or beating it to death?” Sometimes you are killing a conversation by doing nothing – you are letting it get beat to death right in front of your face. Don’t stand idly by – jump in.
- We are on a team. You are here with other people who will allow you to see aspects of the text you could not see by yourself. As a class your goal is to seek the author, to come out of a class with a better understanding of the text than you could have had by yourself.
- Bringing in the original text empowers the conversation. You are talking to the author, to the book itself, let it speak. It is your job to bring the voice of Tacitus, Homer, and Conrad into the classroom. This is also a great litmus test, “Is this discussion going well?” – When was the last time somebody quoted something from the text itself? An hour – you guys are tanking. It doesn't matter if you feel like you made five intelligent points, you are collectively sucking. Dive into the text itself, we are not here to learn about your opinions.
- Ask as questions things that you think you know the answer to – be ready to hear some stuff you didn't expect. A question gets other people in the game. A statement puts you on the center stage saying, “I think this and I am right.” You might be right. Whatever. Sacrifice your “being right” to bring others in.
- Ask yourself “What is my motivation for saying this?” Is it to look smart? Then shut up. This is a hard one for me – Aristotle says if you see that you lean towards a vice, swing hard in the other direction. Say something wrong on purpose – hit your own ego in the face. If you are not talking to learn, stop talking. Am I willing to be wrong? You should be.
The search for truth –
At Thomas Aquinas I feel like the search for truth means, “Look around until you find things that confirm your faith. If anything endangers it, fear not! For we don’t have to take these ideas or authors seriously, we don’t read from these authors to learn from them anyway, we read them to demolish them.” That is not the search for the truth; it is the search for confirmation. It is petty, and shallow, it is undeserving of the great books. Work to understand the authors first that is what class is for.
Be a Liam Collins – make a scene. Don’t buy it unless you believe it. Popular opinion at Thomas Aquinas could use some enemies.
Be a Bridget Coughlin – if you believe it know why. "Because my dad said so" is not good enough for Bridget it is not good enough for you either (awesomeness of Mr. Coughlin not being denied). “Because everybody said so,” is not good enough – of course everybody said so, the student body is made up of people who think the exact same thing. Challenge yourself.
Anyway there are some things that I wanted to say – For all of you that read this and remember all of the times that I did not follow my own advice in class. I am sorry and maybe saying this stuff concretely will help others not make my mistakes.
Me: “You are Queen Frostine the candy princess.”
You: “No I am not.”
Let’s try again with the yes rule:
Me: “ You are Queen Frostine the candy princess.”
You: “Yes I am, my full name is Martin McCann the candy princess.”