Tag: Learning

What is a Perfect Piece of Knowledge?

An allegory of sorts:

I once read the following (the source escapes me):

Our surroundings call forth certain behavior. We tend to act like students when we step in a classroom, and we tend to act like shoppers at the mall. This is . . . the logic of ‘ecological psychology’: I am not a wholly separate entity from my surroundings, but rather, my [surroundings] and I form an interdependent behavior setting.

I loved it. “Ecological psychology.” Whatta concept. It told me why I’ve always insisted on having a study/library in my house, where the kids’ clutter doesn’t roam and the kids themselves are vowed to civilized behavior when they enter. It explained why I reserve the room for calm reading, thought, and writing. It explained why I want to drink when I’m in a bar.… Read the rest

Listening to Podcasts at Oxford in 1374 and Kansas in 1974

Why do we love those conversational podcasts?

If you were a student at a medieval university, you listened to lectures.

And listened and listened and listened to lectures, often more than ten hours a day.

But they weren’t like lectures at today’s universities, where hundreds of students sit in a hall and listen to a professor deliver a monologue.

The medieval morning lectures were like that, but come afternoon, the lectures morphed into dialogue. The professor would assert a position, a graduate assistant would field questions or objections posed by undergraduates, and discussion ensued. At the end, the professor would summarize that afternoon’s conversation.

It was the “Scholastic disputation.”

Each session was meant to unfold knowledge gradually, as informed and inquisitive minds rubbed against one another, sharpening each other in the process, like knives rubbing against a whetstone.

Kansas: Early 1970s

The disputation, like everything else Scholastic, evaporated over the centuries and gave way to the mass lecture hall, with one professor doing all the talking.

In the 1970s, three professors at the University of Kansas brought back the disputation.

The three professors were John Senior, Frank Nelick, and Dennis Quinn, and they led the Integrated Humanities Program, a program dedicated to the wild notion of restoring a sense of beauty and poetic knowledge in its students.

The Program had a lot of facets (e.g., waltzes, star-gazing, great books), but its centerpiece may have been conversations among the three professors with the students watching.

The following description of these highly-popular sessions is taken from Fr. Francis Bethel’s John Senior and the Restoration of Realism.

The 80-minute classes were neither planned nor rehearsed. They weren’t even mentally prepared beforehand. Said Quinn in an interview:

We didn’t plan the lectures. We had lunch together before class started and on the way

Read the rest

Optimism for Me and Other Slow Learners

The Good, the True, and Beautiful Unfold Slowly for Some of Us, but They Do Unfold

I’m not looking to join the old Tropic Thunder velitation, but about 20 years ago I volunteered to sell Tootsie Rolls to help people with mental disabilities. I figured it was an easy way to do some good, so I stood on the steps of my Catholic church as people came out of Mass and enthused, “Help the retards! Buy a Tootsie Roll. Only a buck. Help the retards!”

The next day, I thought about the funny look on parishioners’ faces. I asked my law partner: “Your sister has Down’s Syndrome. Is it offensive to refer to such people as ‘retards’? Because I was at church yesterday . . .”.

He stared (okay, glared) at me and said, yes, it was highly offensive and that I’d probably cost the firm a dozen clients. He also said something to imply that I was a slow learner.


It’s not the first time I felt like a slow learner. I’d been at politically-correct institutions of higher learning for five years before I learned that off-color and politically-incorrect comedic music isn’t proper casual listening with people you’ve just met.

There’s also a litany of weightier things that I haven’t penetrated facilely. I read Hayek’s Road to Serfdom at age 16, but am still learning its lessons. I started reading Chesterton at age 20 and even edited Gilbert Magazine for a short spell, but I’m still a bit cloudy on the whole distributism thing. At age 24, I remember sitting down on a stairwell bench at Notre Dame Law School to ponder the idea that actual sin hinders spiritual development (something not emphasized in my Lutheran upbringing—Luther said my soul is snow-covered dung—but still one that I should’ve … Read the rest