Preparing Children to be Scholars
How shall we plead with Catholic parents so that if a child of theirs shows scholarly aptitudes they will not mistakenly attempt to thwart them and substitute more “normal” tendencies? Better still, how shall we encourage Catholic parents, by means of a definite and purposeful plan, to deliberately and methodically set about the business of preparing their children to be scholars? (“Scholars” is taken here in the sense of a person who can think for himself.)
You do not give, says the Latin adage, what you do not have. Catholic parents do not send their children to school in the hope that a few of them might be scholars. They don’t do this because they don’t appreciate scholars. It’s that simple.
To appreciate a scholar, you personally must have had experience in exploration in the realms of the mind; you must be thrilled by an idea which came so suddenly that it lit up everything around it. You must have stumbled unexpectedly upon a theory which gratifyingly answered many questions you had long carried around in your mind. Above all, you must have a deferential approach to books and you must have often, in Shakespeare’s phrase, “feasted on the dainties that are bred in a book.”
A bit of an order, isn’t it? Let’s break these down into practical application and then we will see how the task becomes less formidable and more feasible on the part of average parents.
- Teach him to listen. Have you ever heard the old one about we were given two ears and only one tongue because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we speak? On the other hand, if we speak twice as much as we listen, we are nothing more that phonographs grinding out impressions we haven’t even thought out. Intake should always exceed output, or intellectual bankruptcy will result. And yet, educators tell us that the art of listening (it really is an art) is one of the most undeveloped today. Listening requires a keen ear, and anything that increases acuteness in that respect is to be fostered. Children love to have someone read to them, and you can insure their listening by asking a few questions at the end of the reading. (Incidentally, children also thrive on questions, as we shall see later.) Family reading, which has gone the sad way of most family life, could be revived with profit to every member of the family. Listen to good music (classical and religious). However you teach listening at home, whether by these methods or simply by insisting that children hear the first time you give instructions for anything at all: however you teach it, do teach it!
- Teach him to admire. Perhaps we should remind ourselves first of all that the word in its origin means to wonder, and that it is closely connected with looking long at something, with staring at it or contemplating it. We don’t need to be told that today we are somewhat like the ancient Stoics whose philosophy was “Nil Admirari” –wonder at (or admire) nothing. All day long we rush by things that are wonderful in the world. Children must be taught the value of gasping in fascination and surprise great works of art – paintings, statues, music, poetry - as well as at the perfection of natural beauty. Nothing is so far from real scholarship as the blasé attitude which many people today have. They yawn in front of the world’s great literature, and they are bored stiff at a concert. And yet, every child is born with a sense of wonder. Unfortunately this is one of the first faculties to be discarded when material concerns close in. The parent who senses this will seize every opportunity to call to his child’s attention those things in life having mystery and depth.
- Teach him to reason. This is essential, especially for teenagers who need to defend their Faith against the attacks of the modern world. You should develop in your children’s minds a critical spirit: when they see something false in a newspaper, they should be able to point out where the mistake is. Disciplines such as Grammar, Latin and Geometry are good in order to teach logical thinking. There are some good books which can help in this domain. Do not forget that TV destroys the ability to think clearly. If you do have a TV, the best way is to use it only to watch old movies on videos. And even this should be done with moderation, e.g. on a rainy Saturday when children cannot play outside or as a special treat to reward good behavior. Promote interesting discussions between your children. Be ready to answer their questions. Make sure they acquire strong convictions.
To finish, we would like to exhort you, dear Catholic parents, to develop the intellect of your children. We need more scholars in order to restore Christendom, i.e. young men and women steeped in profound knowledge especially Catholic philosophy. As Carol Robinson says in her great book, My Life with Thomas Aquinas, we need today an army of St. Dominics to give light to our world plunged in darkness.
Thanks to the efforts of many courageous parents and the help of Traditional Catholic Schools and Universities, we hopefully will have one day intellectual leaders to give souls the Truth which will save them.
This article adapted from June Verbillion was published in Catholic Family, Australia, September - October 1993