Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Liberal Learning

A Student’s Guide To Liberal Learning, by James V. Schall

For me, one of the measures of a successful book is the extent to which it inspires me to further writing.  By that standard, this book is certainly a success, as it looks like I was able to find at least a couple of books by the author in my local library system that I will hopefully be reading soon.  In this book, the author acknowledges that the material here is an abridgment of his previous work, and this work certainly will make many readers curious about what else the author has to say concerning the classical liberal arts education [1].  By and large, this is a book that seeks to promote a humanistic and traditional classical education, to be pursued both through self-culture as well as using one’s own education as wisely as possible in order to help one’s efforts.  Since few universities are going to help someone acquire a strong classical education, those of us who value it are often left to our own devices to do the best we can.  The volume aids the reader, who is expected to be a young person, in order to do just that.

At about 50 pages, this is certainly not a long book, but it makes for in quantity by its humorous and lighthearted touch and by its clear attention to quality.  After a short introductory note, the author talks about the fact that the observations in this book came from his much larger book, Another Sort Of Learning, and comments on some of his counter-cultural observations on education.  After that the author talks about the fact that there is a problem with many types of learning, in that what students care about most are often not discussed in classes.  The author then spends some time on where someone is to begin in acquiring good knowledge through good books and good conversation and self-discipline.  After this comes a discussion of teachers and teaching and how to appreciate the good teachers that one has.  Finally, the author discusses how one is to spend the time to acquire this learning over the course of one’s life and includes as list of unlikely books to stay sane by, the last of several such lists of good books that the author sprinkles throughout the book in entertaining footnotes.

In many ways, this book aids the sort of education that is discussed in its pages.  For one, the book inspires its readers to ask questions about the way that people are educated, and those questions may likely inspire the reader to try to figure out the answers, as well as learn from the response to those questions that the author provides.  The author provides plenty of good books and historical context and interesting thinkers who thought and worked on the matter of education, and this sort of interest makes the book much more enjoyable.  Education debates can be rather tedious and tiresome sometimes, and this book does a very good job at keeping the discussion light and upbeat and quirky, all things that make for a more enjoyable read.  The strong medicine about holding the reader responsible for self-education and self-discipline goes down much easier because it is told with a great deal of style and humor, and because the writer works well to enlist the reader on his side by pointing to the ways in which being a better student and seeking a better education can improve someone from the way things are in our world where bad education is sometimes taken for granted.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/06/29/book-review-a-parents-guide-to-choosing-a-school-in-yamhill-county/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/22/she-put-your-books-out-on-the-sidewalk/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/15/book-review-self-culture-in-reading-speaking-and-conversation/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/29/book-review-the-paideia-program/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/04/26/book-review-the-discarded-image/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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