The following video is a speech by legendary Georgetown professor Father James V. Schall, S.J., who spent 35 years teaching in the Government department at Georgetown. It was given on the occasion of his retirement to a packed audience in Gaston Hall. In attendance were numerous high-level government officials who he's taught over the years, in addition to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and most of Georgetown's Jesuit community, along with an untold number of students and faculty.
Father Schall's book, Another Sort of Learning, is listed on our Bookshelf (click the link to read a short review) as one every student should read, not once, but twice. We also recommend it as one of two key books in our Ratio Studiorum for getting the most out your time at Georgetown. It is widely hailed as one of America's best books on higher education and many students have described it as "life-changing."
In the last published issue of TGA, Father Schall was profiled and his impact on students discussed.
The author noted at the time that . . .
In losing him, Georgetown University not only loses one of its most widely loved professors, but one who is at home with a traditional approach to studying the Western tradition—free from the usual p.c. bromides. It also loses a man who can claim that which most other professors cannot: a transformational impact on the lives of many of his students.
Because of him, my fellow undergraduates and I became, if only for a short time, the potential philosophers Socrates spent so much time with, men and women much better able to grapple with some of life’s most important questions: the nature and purpose of existence, what is happiness, the roles of love and friendship in our lives, how best to order the most just regime, the relationship between reason and revelation, and the limits of philosophy.
In other words, we examined life’s “highest things,” under the guidance of a wise and noble teacher; exactly what some might say is the purpose of a liberal education.
Though retired, Schall remains busy. He continues to produce regular columns for The Catholic Thing. His most recent are on what one does not learn in school, Pope Francis's visit to America (something TGA looks at in this post), the fate of Jesuit donkeys, and Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who would not issue a marriage license to two gay dudes.
Father Schall was also honored earlier this semester with a special panel at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association celebrating his legacy.
We could go on, but we won't. Instead, we'll leave you with this excerpt of an interview given last year to America Magazine, the nation's only Catholic weekly, which incidentally, is put out by the Jesuits . It's about his most important lesson.
You retired from the classroom after 35 years as a popular Georgetown professor teaching classical political philosophy. If you could pick only one lesson that students took from your writing and teaching, what would it be?
The overwhelming thing, I suppose, is a lesson from Aristotle: We cannot have many good friends in this life, because true friendship is for a few in a complete lifetime. Yet, and this is the Christian element, we still have met so many fine and lovely students that we only began to know. They each had to go on to their own lives. Yet, reality somehow cannot be at rest if it does not ultimately include this completion of what was also begun in this life. This is why I have written so much on immortality and resurrection. There is already much of this wondering in my first book, Redeeming the Time.
Still, with regard to students, I think that my book Another Sort of Learning best takes us to the lessons that students teach us. The function of a professor is primarily to teach the truth, not “his” own private truth. Students are just out there. When you walk into class the first day of a semester, they do not know you nor you them. They are not there so you can entertain them, though you hope that they laugh at your jokes, even if they are not particularly funny. You do not “own” the truth. You are there as someone who has read and hopefully pondered things that they never thought of, the things that are. You are there to enable them, as Yves Simon explained, to arrive to the truth faster than if they would flounder about by themselves.
So you tell them about those books and writers who have helped you. Another Sort of Learning is full of books to read, books that probably no one ever told them about, books, as I say, “to keep sane by.” But you read with them. They have heard of Aristotle, perhaps, but have no clue about him. So you just begin to read him. “Stick with me,” you tell them, “you will see.” Most often they do.
But you cannot “make” them see. It is something that must come from within them as it has to come from within you, but about something that is not you, about what is. So you look for what I call “the light in the eye.” You look for the day that the young man in the back of the room suddenly seems to perk up. He seems to see that Aristotle or Plato or Aquinas has something to say.
You tell them that one of the things you want them to learn from your course is that the most exciting things they will ever encounter came from hundreds and thousands of years ago. They will find nothing quite like it and they know it. When they see this, your job as a professor is basically over. That is always why I tried to end my classes with Plato. As I say, there is no such thing as a university in which the reading of Plato is not constantly going on.
In addition to being known as an excellent educator whose Socratic style of teaching endeared him to his students, Father Schall was (and remains) a prolific writer. You can read some of his work at his Georgetown website, his other website, and this one too.