Over the semester in “Why – and What – Should We Read?,” students reflect periodically on the course readings. The following reflections come from students in the Fall of 2013.
My First Experience with a Canon
Nate Wright on the Christian Canon
The Canon had one shot, and it was in second grade. I was already a thief, stealing my sister’s sixth grade reading books while she lined her bookbag with Sassy magazine and books from my parent’s shelf. I was a reading machine. Early in my introduction to Catholic school I told my mother that I wanted to be a priest (supposedly so I wouldn’t have children who bore any resemblance to my sister). That became a short-lived notion.
I had my chance mid-way through my first year at Catholic school. It was the second graders’ turn to participate in the weekly Mass. Every grade took a turn. The older students more often than the younger, but even the kindergartners got their chance. Glory be to me, I had a chance to shine. I had been waiting since the first moment I found out we got to read in front of the entire school. I was a reading machine. The rest of my class sat being dragged through their phonics lesson with a hook through their cheeks. I could read the circles they ran around me at recess. This was my world.
They asked for volunteers. My parents were all about volunteering, and I spent a good many weekends training so that my hand could shoot up the fastest when the call came. Who wants to read for Mass? News flash: Second grader breaks sound barrier raising his hand in class. Scientists baffled.
You know who was baffled? That second grader who, for the first time in his life, had restrictions put on his reading.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Outstanding Second Grader, you can’t read because you’re not Catholic.”
@#$*% you, I can’t read. I read every day in class while these ‘Catholics’ are sounding out their words. I’m ready to commit, to fall deep in the words you give, if only I had the chance. My voice is power because I am confident in what I see in front of me. Instead, break the words amongst the stutter of those still being reeled in by the phonics lesson, struggling with the word when I’m struggling with the message.
Since that day I’ve lost faith in authority. I was a willing tablet to be written on, but cast aside because my clay was different. I see behind you and want those that spoke softly and read on their own, that could make their own decisions amongst the noise of the crowd. Go to enough churches, and you’ll see enough people telling you the same thing in different ways.
I like the Canon. Not just for the picture it presents, but for the hues that swirl with light and shadow in the nuance of Christian thought.
On “Play” in Plato
Sam Kepp on the Phaedrus
After discussing the Phaedrus in class, I went back to my dorm feeling intrigued. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d read a Shimer text as playful, as openly free-spirited, as the Phaedrus, nor could I remember the last time I’d participated in a class that was as willing to embrace a text’s sillier, more fun-loving aspects.
I soon began to wonder why. Why did the Phaedrus in particular get us to talk about “play” or “fun” with the same amount of importance as philosophy? Unfortunately, this thought did not consciously preoccupy me long. I had homework to do, and I attempted to do it as best I could.
The day afterward I discovered that I had not been successful in my attempt. Normally, a failure like that would ruin my entire day, but on this occasion I had no time to sulk, because I, rather uncharacteristically, had agreed to attend a small dinner.
I have never operated under the misconception that I am good at social interaction. Conversations puzzle me, and I find facial expressions rather confusing. Therefore, I walked to the dinner feeling appropriately timid and nervous. I rang the doorbell, gulped fearfully, and awaited whatever lay in store.
To my great surprise, I managed to enjoy myself. The people attending were nice, their conversations were wonderful, and the food was superb. I left feeling thankful that I had attended.
But the next day I felt less than joyful. I had agreed to take a group of students to a party the following night, and had also agreed to stay at the party for some time. I generally dislike parties, and avoid them whenever possible. I had hoped to avoid the party in question, but attending it became unavoidable. The day passed, and the party loomed on the horizon. Eventually, it was time to get ready and walk over.
The party was like most other parties I hadn’t enjoyed. It was loud, there were obnoxious people present, and there was too much dancing. But I found myself participating in discussion anyway, laughing at people’s jokes, and almost having fun. The same things that always annoy me still annoyed me, but I somehow felt different, maybe even better than I did upon arrival.
It was only today, the day afterward, that I realized I might have answered my own question. Perhaps the Pheadrus forced us to treat play with a certain level of importance because the Phaedrus recognizes that play is important. Perhaps it is only through the sorts of experiences that one has when “having fun” that one can truly “know one’s self.” Perhaps we can only become “beautiful inside,” the way Socrates wishes at the end of the dialogue, through our interaction with others, and our enjoyment of their company. And even if this isn’t “true,” it’s an interesting thought, and one that I will continue to explore.