More: On Education

Happy Easter Friday!!!

This is the one Friday of the year that has required feasting, which means . . . . we can eat meat on a Friday! Hip hip hurrah!

Do you know how odd this feels? Fridays are for me normally a day of fast and abstinence, for the sake of self-discipline and in remembrance of a Great Sacrifice.

Which means that for one day a week I am vegetarian. Fun times.

But this is a week of great joy and feasting, and fasting is not permitted under this time of glory! Laude, laude!

Sadly, academic time does not follow liturgical time.

This week is the stress before the storm: two essays are due next week, and I am starting to prepare for final exams.

And so I have been asking myself, “Self, WHY ARE YOU GOING TO GRAD SCHOOL?”

I have not answered this query yet. As much as I love reading and thinking about literature, I am glad that only going for an MA and not a PhD. Five more years of this might turn me into a repugnant, rapacious wreck.

My heaviest cross this semester was without a doubt my Thomas More class. As much as I respect the man himself, what I am taking away from his writing is a deep loathing for lawyers and their convoluted rhetoric.

Dear Reader, I thought that I should inflict more of More on you. Isn’t that so nice and sharing of me?

After all, the man was a genius! And despite my objections to his type of renaissance rhetoric, Thomas More had some great things to say about education. Particularly education for all regardless of sex or class. His daughters all received the same education and studies in Greek and Latin that his son did. In fact, his daughters were considered among – if not the – most educated women in Europe. His eldest, Margaret, was a famous translator in her own right.

So, I though that considering some of his letters touching upon education might help to rekindle my enthusiasm of learning. Or at least give the impetus to get through the next two weeks!

Because if More saw me wilting after only four months of study on one subject, he would despise me even more than I am sure he already does.

From “Letter to the Teacher of More’s Children”

“Since erudition in women is a new thing and a reproach to the sloth of men, many will gladly assail it, and impute to learning what is really the fault of nature, thinking from the vices of the learned to get their own ignorance esteemed a virtue. On the other hand, if a woman (and this I desire and hope with you as their teacher for all my daughters) to eminent virtue of mind should add even moderate skill in learning, I think she will gain more real good than if she obtain the riches of Croesus and the beauty of Helen. Not because that learning will be a glory to her, though learning will accompany virtue as a shadow does a body, but because  the reward of wisdom is too solid to be lost with riches or to perish with beauty, since it depends on the inner knowledge of what is right, not on the talk of men, than which nothing is more foolish or mischievous.”

. . .

“Therefore, my dear [teacher], since we must walk by this road, I have often begged not you only, who, out of your affection for my children, would do it of your own accord, nor my wife, who is sufficiently urged by her maternal love for them, which has been proved to me in so many ways, but all my friends, to warn my children to avoid the precipices of pride and haughtiness, and to walk in the pleasant meadows of modesty; not to be dazzled at the sight of gold; not to lament that they do not possess what they erroneously admire in others; not to think more of themselves for gaudy trappings, nor less for the want of them; neither to deform the beauty that nature has given them by neglect, nor to try to heighten it by artifice; to put virtue in the first place, learning in the second; and in their studies to esteem most whatever may teach them piety towards God, charity to all, and modesty and Christian humility in themselves. By such means they will receive from God the reward of an innocent life, and in the assured expectation of it, will view death without horror, and meanwhile possessing solid joy, will neither be puffed up by the empty praise of men, nor dejected by evil tongues.

These I consider the genuine fruits of learning, and, though I admit that all literary men do not possess them, I would maintain that those who give themselves to study with such views, will easily attain their end and become perfect.

Meanwhile, I am planning my own University, where finals coincide with Good Friday and Easter week is a series of rejoicing and partying and feasting. Required, of course.


4 thoughts on “More: On Education

  1. Wow, I was really with him until that last half a sentence…more specifically, the adverb “easily.” Did More think he was perfect? Does that make him really wrong, or just make us rather lame students?

    Fair fortune be thine as the end of the semester approaches. I honestly can’t think of anything better than this letter to exhort you to virtue.

    Laude et gaude!!

    • Considering that More’s children were writing letters in Latin by the time they were 7 or 8, I think I am just a lame student.

      Maybe this week will take off some of my time in purgatory!!

  2. Hurrah for More! And Easter! And grad school! And Margaret! HAVE you read “A Man For All Seasons”? Margaret has a wonderful line in there, when Henry VIII says to her, “I hear you are a great intellectual, Margaret.” And she replies, “among women I pass for one, your Grace.” I thought that was rather clever.

    • I have read that one – and see both film versions! – and I and have to say . . . it doesn’t really do justice to the sacrifice and familial tenderness of the Mores. (Although I do agree with the portrayal of Roper and a nincompoop.) Reading More himself really impressed me with how completely brilliant he was, and how much he valued people who knew how think. His views on education were incredibly Socratic, and his writing is much the same. Which is why so many people read him the wrong way . . . “Utopia” was not meant to be taken as a serious proposal; in fact, anyone who works out the simplest measurements and social facts will see that it impossible and rather stupid. (The amount of cities in the area claimed is impossible!) And yet he he credited as “founder of socialism” for that book!

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