When my daughter was young, she would often be asked, not usually by fellow homeschoolers, why she kept reading The Lord of the Rings. I told her to reply, "Because I want to know what's going on in the world."
That came to my mind today after a discussion I had with a Catholic men's group at our school. One of the young fellows told me that his professor in Introduction to Sociology -- a typical course assigned during orientation to unsuspecting freshmen -- expressed her disdain for our twenty-credit Development of Western Civilization Program, required of all students. "You should be studying something that will be of use to you in the Real World," she said, "like feminist sociology."
Pause here to allow the laughter to die down.
Homo academicus saecularis sinister, the creature beside whom I have spent all my adult life, is a source of endless entertainment, like a child with wobbly consonants trying to talk serious grownup. I really could not repress the merriment. "If somebody said that to me," I laughed, "who was a construction worker, or who went down in the mines, or quarried rock, or built roads, I'd say, 'Fellow, you're wrong about that,' but at least I'd say there was something to what he'd said." But homo academicus saecularis sinister doesn't really have much regard for the men who do that. HASS never drives down the highway, saying, "You know, I'm quite lucky, because I don't have to break my back in the sun, and I get three months of the year off, and am paid quite well compared with what a man or a woman who does something absolutely necessary is paid, as for instance the men who rolled the asphalt on this road I'm speeding on." Indeed HASS will complain about never being paid in accordance with his or her intelligence, which, according to the most reliable testimony, that of HASS -- who should know best, after all -- is astonishingly high.
When I hear a phrase like "The Real World," I must confess that I fall into the sin of detraction. That is, I immediately detract fifteen points of intelligence and ten points of common sense from my interlocutor. If it's followed by such phrases as "today's society" or "the global marketplace" or "thinking outside the box," I inevitably turn to an object of greater interest, a child playing in a sandbox, a retriever wagging his doggy tail, or the purple streaks of cloud gathering in the west. I dearly hope that my students will never consider the sand-furrowing child, or the galumphing retriever, or the setting sun, to be anything other than deeply Real, mysteriously and beautifully and achingly Real, and that their encounter with the great poetry and art of the west, not to mention that perennial philosophy of Aristotle, and that wisdom-seeking eros of Plato, and the word of God itself, will confirm them in their love for that Reality.
One of the students said, "She's overeducated," but alas, that is not true. If I were to take my friend the truck driver to the Sistine Chapel, he would not be so foolish, I am sure, as to say, "Hmm, a lot of naked people falling all over themselves." He would sense that there was a mystery there to which he'd hope someone might introduce him, to lead him by the hand, saying, "Notice the electric space between the finger of God and the finger of Adam," or "See how Michelangelo has painted his own face in the sagging skin held by Saint Bartholomew." My friend might be slightly undereducated for an hour in the Sistine Chapel -- and who, for that hour, would not be? But the college professor who sniffs at the Gilgamesh, Hesiod, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Pindar, Plato, Aristotle, Livy, Cicero, Virgil, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the letters of Saint Paul -- just to take the first semester for example -- is not overeducated. That professor is undereducated, and overschooled, a deadly combination. Deadly, but common enough, from what I see, and especially common among people who reduce all matters to contemporary partisan politics, as homo academicus saecularis sinister is wont to do.