Pupils Delighted by Anthony Esolen

View

Pupils Delighted

Anthony Esolen on Wondering or Wandering Through College Education

This spring at our college’s awards ceremony I was sitting next to the father of one of my brightest students. His son was graduating in biology, summa cum laude. But that’s not what the father wanted to talk to me about. He wanted to express his gratitude for my being a kind of spiritual guide for his son.

If I did guide his son, it was indirectly, by introducing the young man to some of the glorious poetry of the Christian world. I don’t know that he needed such guidance; he is uncommonly wise for one of his years. But it was my privilege to be the person who led him to the beauty and the wisdom of the works of Dante and Milton, of Spenser and Shakespeare.

And there was more. The father was grateful also because his son brought home with him that beauty and wisdom, and it buoyed up the good man during difficult times, when he was tempted, as he put it to me, to “pack it in.” Then he showed me a card in his wallet, of Jesus of the Sacred Heart, with the white and red rays, signs of love and mercy.

So there we sat as the ceremony proceeded. Then it came time to honor this year’s recipient of the college’s teaching award. This professor is a friendly fellow, scrupulous in his work, and well liked by students in his field. He’s also someone who has no admiration whatsoever for the humanities. He’s spent two or three decades deriding our college’s two-year course in Western Civilization. He runs it down in his classes, in the presence of students enrolled in the course. He’s been known to pick on students publicly for studying poetry, which he calls useless. His outlook is entirely secular.

I expected to wince. Instead, what I heard puzzled me. I am still trying to understand it. He congratulated the students for being part of the “most selective freshman class in the last ten years.” He congratulated them for their being what he called “engaged learners,” unlike freshmen at our school thirty years ago—many of whom, it should be noted, were present in the audience and pay his salary—who were “passive learners,” taught merely to memorize information from lectures. That last was an ill-bred and ill-informed slap at our Western Civilization course.

He concluded his short acceptance speech by declaring that he had no doubt that the honorees in attendance would make us proud. This they would do by “earning high scores on standardized tests,” or “obtaining internships and fellowships,” or “distinguishing themselves in musical or theatrical competitions,” or “winning admission to prestigious graduate schools.”

As Milton’s Belial says in Hell, “And that must end us, that must be our cure.”

Unaware Amputees

I am not much puzzled by the emptiness of the secular world, its pious slogans and self-congratulatory politics (here, as it happens, politics of the left) little more than a flourish upon cold, meritocratic ruthlessness. I concede that it does still shock me when I see it up close. I imagine that it still surprises an army surgeon to see a man with no legs stilting into his office. These here are spiritual amputees. I wish they weren’t, just as the surgeon might wish that the man with the prosthetics had his own legs again.

But what does puzzle me is the utter lack of awareness. A man born blind does not know what it is to see, but he’s heard of vision and he knows that he lacks it. A man with no legs may well remember what it is like to walk. But—in my experience—the secularist does not know what he does not know.


Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalene College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire. His many books include Sex in the Unreal City: The Demolition of the Western Mind, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a regular contributor to Chronicles, Crisis Magazine, The Claremont Review, Inside the Vatican Things, The Catholic Thing, and American Greatness. He has translated Dante's Divine Comedy. He is a Roman Catholic and lives with his wife in New Hampshire. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.


more on education from the online archives

18.6—Nov/Dec 2005

Lesson Plan

on Fifteen Principles of Christian Parenting by Paige Patterson

28.5—Sept/Oct 2015

Who's Your Teacher?

on Our Sacred Duty to Teach the Devil to Death by Marcus Johnson

32.4—July/August 2019

To Spread His Glory

Four Theses on Christian Education by Donald T. Williams

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

31.4—July/August 2018

Listening to Eve

on the Brevity & Theology of Her Recorded Words by Judith Anderson

32.1—January/February 2019

Role Reversals

Sex, Women's Ordination & the Rejection of Hierarchy & Equality by James A. Altena

33.2—March/April 2020

Christ Chapel at Hillsdale

An Architectural Sign of Mere Christianity by Michael Ward

00