Book Review: Docilitas

Docilitis:  On Teaching And Being Taught, by James V. Schall, S.J.

It is perhaps unsurprising that this book is made up of writings relating to being teachable.  The title of this book is an unfamiliar (at least to me) Latin word that is related to being docile, not a quality that most people wish to cultivate in our ferocious contemporary world.  Most of the chapters of this book were published first elsewhere–1, 8 and 11 being online articles for Ignatius Insight, 3, 4, 7, and 12 written in Vital Speeches, 9 for New Blackfriars, 15 for Catholic World Report, 16 for Utraque Unum, and the conclusion for University Bookman.  In general, it may be said accurately that the author takes a strongly and traditionally Catholic, and even more specifically Thomist, view to education and the relationship between faith and reason, and if you are fond of that there is much to appreciate here.  Admittedly, although being teachable [1] is definitely an interest of mine, I come at the subject from a somewhat different perspective than the author himself.  Even so, I found much here to enjoy and much to appreciate and I suspect that traditional Catholic readers (however many such people exist at present) will find this book especially enjoyable.

This book’s contents are admittedly somewhat random, but that is part of the book’s charm, seeing as the author is quite proficient at writing about teaching.  He begins with acknowledgements and a discussion of how knowledge is not owned but rather passed on.  He then discusses the patron saint of teachers, intellectual resources, teaching, why professors need students, some questions proper to the university, the reading room, teaching and the highest good, reading without learning, what makes liberal education liberal, Thomas Aquinas and the life of the mind, what it is necessary to read to be saved, Seneca’s thoughts on personal libraries, the uselessness of philosophers, what a book is, learning from not having learned, the title subject of docilitas, what we should fix our gaze on, and an appendix with fifteen books to live on.  Although the material is somewhat random, it is clear that the author draws a great deal of his writing and insight from ancient Greek and Roman philosophy as well as Roman Catholic practice.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, he recommends a lot of books like this one that spring from a Catholic tradition for readers to read and learn by.

While it is unsurprising that the author is so fond of Roman and Greek sources as well as Romish ones, there are still plenty of surprises to be found here.  One of the more remarkable aspects of this book is how many references there are to Peanuts.  There are quite a few–dozens even–and that is not something I would normally expect in a book on education, not least one with a ponderous Latin title like this one.  In general, the frequent Peanuts references clue the reader into the fact that he does not take reading and learning as “seriously” as other people do, and much can be gained from this unserious approach.  Obviously, the target market for this book consists of serious-minded but not entirely serious Catholics.  It is striking to note, for this reviewer at least, just how distinctive of a view about teaching and education one has based on one’s worldview.  Personally speaking, I would never look to the behavior of Greek philosophers or Seneca, much less Thomas Aquinas, as a model for how education should proceed, but that is exactly where this author goes, and although the perspective is different than my own, there is a great deal of soundness in what the author has to say, for all of its eccentricities.

[1] See, for example:

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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